Why more needs to be done to support the mental wellbeing of boys and men

The biggest killer of men in the UK aged between 20–49 is not cancer, it’s not a heart disease and it’s not through accidents. It’s suicide. Every single day 12 men in the UK take their own lives. This needs to change.

In 2013 the MHO (Mental health organization) found that in the UK women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. However, in the 6,233 suicides recorded in the UK in 2013 for people over the age of 15, 78% were men. This is a clear and worrying indication that mental health in men is being suppressed and under-exposed. With the social roles and pressures that the modern man faces and the stigma surrounding the need for masculinity it is clear that emotions, feelings, concerns and worries of males are often withheld and repressed for fear of judgment.

The online site Joe.co.uk, whose tagline is ‘for men not lads’, conducted a survey of 15,000 men in 2016 as part of their ‘Men Unmasked’ week focusing on the stigma of mental health in men. The survey produced some startling facts including that 71% of men feel there is too much expected of them. This again demonstrates the stresses and pressures the modern man in under.

With increasing social roles and stereotypes of the modern man being presented to us in society and in the media it is clear that males feels they are unable to perform to the social pressures presented to them. In 2014 CALM (Campaign against living miserably) found that 42% of men felt the pressure to be the main breadwinner in comparison to just 13% of females. Findings from CALM also showed that 42% of men felt they were “mostly responsible” for being emotionally strong in a time of crisis compared to 19% of women.

Perhaps though more concerning than the pressures that males face is their inability to talk about it and seek support. While we have already noted that females are two times more likely than men to be diagnosed with a mental health issue, this may not be a fair representation and may instead just be an indication that men are hesitant to approach others to talk about their mental health.

A superb video by The Huffington Post looking at male mental health

The Men Unmasked survey found that 93% of men want to reach out to friends when dealing with depression, but fewer than 50% actually feel comfortable in doing it. So, just why do men find it so hard to talk about their mental health?

There is certainly a stigma surrounding men and mental health and if you ever disagreed with this then the facts above would indicate otherwise. The pressures to conform to a certain level of masculinity can prove to be difficult for men when discussing their mental health.

Speaking to The Telegraph, chief executive of CALM Jane Powell noted, “Men need to talk before they hit a wall in a crisis or feel they are at the end of the road. The normality of women freely discussing their troubles is undoubtedly a factor in declining rates of female suicide and underlines the need for a gender-based strategy in suicide prevention.”

Examples of positive work and activism making a difference

For many men there are two key concerns that can cause fear when confronting and opening up about their mental wellbeing. The first as discussed earlier is the fear of compromising ones masculinity and not adhering to the stereotypes and expectations that are presented to us by the media and wider society. The other however can often be for fear of not being able to understand what is going on inside us. Often if you ever look to research mental wellbeing you will be instantly presented with terminologies that you can neither decipher nor relate towards. However, some of the key activism that is worth pointing out is by those who are making the issues surrounding mental health more accessible. By removing taboos and debunking convoluted and perplexing terms we can see more males feeling comfortable with opening up about their mental wellbeing.

Tom Chapman has done just this. After watching his friend lose his battle with mental health two years ago Tom decided he wanted to change the way in which male mental health is supported. As a barber and hairdresser he realised that many men spend far more time talking to their barbers than their GPs and can often strike up a familiarity and confidence with their barber unlike one with their doctor. Tom established the Lions Barber Collective, which aims to provide a safe space for men to come and discuss their mental wellbeing in a safe environment. The key to this is that the Lions Barber Collective has been able to create an accessible nature for men to discuss their mental health. A place where men can freely talk about their mental wellbeing in the same tone they would discuss football. To read more about the Lions Barber Collective then please follow the link below.

Another example of activism within male mental health and a look at how discussing and addressing the mental wellbeing of men can be made more accessible is the work done by friends Davey and Damien. They have established a podcast called Men Talk Health, which looks to discuss male mental health in an anecdotal tone combined with humor to allow men to feel more comfortable about addressing their mental health. The podcast can be listened to below.

What else need to be done?

While there are great individuals and groups working together to combat the issues surrounding male mental health, there still needs to be recognition from higher powers to provide adequate support and healthcare. At the end of April the British psychology society will vote as to whether a separate section for male mental health should be established. If this can be achieved it will be a major step in preventing dads, brothers and friends from taking their own lives

For support from Samaritans call 116 123

For support from Mind call 0300 123 3393

For support from CALM call 0800 58 58 58