According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Although such issues can impact everyone, men, in particular, are reluctant to talk about their mental health and seek help. We look at why it’s often difficult, the issues surrounding it, and how we can face it head-on.
The issues facing men
Mental health problems can impact anyone. In the UK, statistics show that while women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem, men are less likely to seek support when they are experiencing such difficulties. Sadly, around the world, men are also more likely to die by suicide than women, and it’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. These statistics show that there an issue. Here are some of the elements that are driving these numbers:
The impact of traditional masculinity
Part of the problem starts with the traditional views of what men ‘should’ be like. In culture and the media, men are often presented as ultra-masculine or ‘macho’. When things get tough, they grimly and silently keep on going. They never cry and are rarely vulnerable.
The problem is that most people just aren’t like that – everyone faces hard times and needs support. This idea that you should ‘man up’ and ‘take it on the chin’ makes it hard for men of all ages to express how they truly feel and seek the help they need.
In a 2012 NUS report, ‘lad culture’ in the UK is described as, “a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.” Not only is this problematic for the targets of such ‘banter’, but many men feel like they have to hide their true selves. There's pressure to live up to the image of being ‘one of the lads’. Such an environment is no place to talk about how you’re feeling or ask for help if you’re struggling with any mental health concerns.
The way we feel and think about our bodies can have a huge impact on our mental health and the way we view ourselves as a whole. Body image anxiety can lead to low self-esteem and depression. Yet, in advertising, the media, and celebrity culture, the ‘ideal’ body presented to both men and women is often unrealistic, unattainable and heavily edited.
According to a recent report, dissatisfaction with your body image can lead to a range of physical, emotional and social problems. Depression and eating disorders are particularly common. Again, body image often plays into ideas of lad culture and masculinity, where going to the gym and ‘bulking up’ are seen as the idea, and physical differences are often criticised.
Teen suicide rates are on the rise in both the US and UK and men are around three to four times more likely to kill themselves than women. Young people find themselves under more stress than ever before, and social media can make it seem as if everyone else is having a better time than you.
Our guide on What to do if you’re thinking of hurting yourself, looks at ways to get help and deal with the urge to self-harm. You can also contact the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
With such a complex set of potential problems, it’s important young men are aware of these issues and given support if and when they need it. Thankfully, there’s many campaigns and charities that provide this support:
Movember is a charity that’s hoping to change the face of men’s health. They address issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention. Essentially, Movember is raising awareness about issues that men have long struggled to talk about. Check out their video on opening up when things are tough.
CALM stands for the Campaign Against Living Miserably. They’re a UK charity aimed at raising awareness about and preventing male suicide. They have a helpline, as well as tons of information about getting support and getting involved.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a US-based mental health organisation that’s raising awareness and providing support and education to those in need. They have some particularly good resources for teens and young adults.
There are several organisations and foundations aimed at providing support specifically to students:
What are universities doing to help?
A recent report in the UK found that male students are less likely than their female peers to access university counselling and wellbeing services. More needs to be done to get young men to open up about their mental health struggles. Universities such as Birkbeck University of London and UCL in the UK, and the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan are running campaigns to get the conversation started.
What can you do to help?
Everyone can take a stand to raise awareness about mental health issues. The important thing is that we create environments where everyone is willing to talk about the problems they’re experiencing. In our Wellbeing section, we have a variety of guides on ‘Coping with…’ various issues. They go into full details on how you can seek and provide help. For now, here are some basics on helping your friends:
- Be open with your friends. Talk about your own issues and assure them that it’s fine to share feelings. It’s important to create a space where you all feel comfortable.
- Challenge negative behaviours. When friendly banter oversteps the line and starts being potentially damaging, make sure you call it out. Whether it’s directed at you or someone else, challenging the behaviour is essential to putting a stop to it.
- Spread the word. When you find interesting articles or videos, make sure you share them. Tell people about the importance of being open and honest about mental health.
- Get involved. Support the charities and organisations that are championing support for those who are struggling. Volunteer at events, tweet your support and raise money for worthy causes.