It’s only in recent years that men’s mental health has been readily talked about in the media. Statistics on male suicide have necessitated conversations about the stigma men face when talking about their mental health, and why so many men in distress don’t feel they can ask for help:
- Suicide is the most common cause of death for men under 45 (according to the Department of Health).
- Three-quarters of those who complete suicide are male (recorded by the Office for National Statistics, 2017).
- In 2015, only 36% of referrals to the NHS’ IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) were for men.
- In 2016, a survey for the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 28% of men had not sought help for their most recent mental health problem, compared to 19% of women.
Faced with this glaring evidence, it’s unsurprising there is now a media focus and medical focus on young and middle-aged men’s mental health.
Several charity campaigns have changed the rhetoric here, including:
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a male-specific suicide prevention charity which runs a helpline, preventing an average of two suicides every day. CALM’s awareness campaigns are relatable and effective; these include ALAN, an acronym to get friends opening up to each other, and #ManYourLocal, with messages on beermats.
- Lions Barber Collective involves barbers raising awareness of men’s mental health by encouraging their clients to talk openly, and training each other to spot signs of suicidal ideation.
- Movember’s ‘Be a man of more words’ campaign called for men to talk about their worries, rather than stay silent.
These campaigns challenge the need for men to ‘man up’ (be seen as less emotional, vulnerable) and they challenge stereotypical images of manliness: the ‘strong and silent’ types, the testosterone-fuelled gym-goers and the ball-breaking City types who don’t seem to have the time or the inclination to feel sad.
We have sadly seen several male celebrities die by suicide in the last five years, including actor Robin Williams, rock stars Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and DJ and producer Avicii. Though each of these deaths is a tragedy, collectively they have shown the public that fame and fortune can’t prevent mental health crises, and appearing happy on the surface really doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling underneath it all.
Journalist and author Poorna Bell is one of the most prominent UK campaigners for men’s mental health awareness. Poorna’s husband Rob died by suicide in 2015; she has since written a book about his mental health issues and the aftermath of his death, called Chase the Rainbow. Poorna is vocal about the need for men not to bury their feelings or be ashamed to seek help. “Deep down inside he found it really shameful, and I can’t help wondering how things might have been different had he been able to ask for help earlier,” she told ITV News in 2018.
A 2017 survey by mental health charity Mind found that work was likely to be the biggest cause of mental health problems for men; by 2018, it was reported in Personnel Today that 3 in 10 men have suffered a work-related mental health issue, yet 46% of men hadn’t reported a mental health problem to their manager (based on a study by Mynurva). These statistics raise the question: are we doing enough to help men in the workplace?
Alongside general male mental health campaigns, we need more sector-specific initiatives like Mates in Mind, which promotes mental health support for men in the construction industry. By 2025, Mates in Mind aims to have reached 75% of the industry.
Many of the UK and Ireland’s biggest employers now welcome Mental Health First Aid Training in the workplace, open to all staff. Others have offered to put mental health measures in place, with resources like a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) available to anyone who wants one. This involves disclosing to your HR department a list of noticeable signs that you may be struggling with your mental health, and a list of steps you’d like them to take should things deteriorate. However, the WRAP scheme does have its limits – mainly that it requires you to self-disclose and employers to spot the warning signs and refer to the plan.
For long-lasting change to occur, we also need to promote good mental health to young boys, not just grown men. In 2016, Time to Change found that 46% of teenage boys in England wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to talk to their dads about mental health, but 57% would want their dads to talk to them. This means fathers must lead by example: start conversations, don’t refer to expressing emotions as being embarrassing or soft.
Schools can do their bit by promoting good mental health as early as possible. The Anna Freud Centre has downloadable resources for teachers, including animated videos and prompts for classroom discussion. These aren’t male-specific, but they invite the whole class to reflect on mental health and listen properly to each other’s concerns. The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust also has webinars for schools to use.
We also need to shy away from stereotypes of certain mental health conditions being seen as ‘female’, such as eating disorders. The number of young boys in England, Scotland and Wales admitted to hospital for eating disorders has sharply increased – from 235 boys in 2010 to 466 boys in 2018. A report from BBC Newsround contains videos discussing this often-overlooked topic.
As you can see, there is a lot of groundwork needed to change perceptions of men’s mental health, but many grassroots organisations are heading in the right direction. We can all do our bit to break stereotypes and to encourage more men and boys to be honest about their wellbeing, without fear of being judged.
Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).