In England, around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem.1 However, men may be reluctant to seek support for their mental health or disclose mental health problems to loved ones. 2
While many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties and influences on mental health may be especially relevant for men.
Societal Expectations and Traditional Gender Roles
Societal Expectations, that is, the ways in which men and women have been traditionally expected to behave may play a role in mental health. For men, societal expectations about how men “should” behave and what masculinity is includes the expectation that men be the breadwinners of their family, and that they display what have traditionally been perceived as masculine traits like strength, stoicism, dominance, and control.
While wanting to feel, and feeling, strong and in control are not inherently negative things, some research suggests that a reliance on these traditional ideals as what it means to be “a man” may negatively impact men’s mental health 3, 4, 5
The research on this suggests that behaving in a way that conforms to these expectations, specifically expectations of self-reliance, and power over others is associated with increased distress and poorer mental health4. Some research also suggests that men who feel as though they are unable speak openly about emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support 3.
In England, men have been found to be less likely to access psychological therapies than women, with males making up only 36% of referrals to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) .6 Men may also be less likely to disclose their mental health issues to family members or friends2, and more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol in response to distress5. However, there is research to suggest that men will seek and access help when they feel that the help being offered meets their preferences, and is easily accessed, meaningful, and engaging3.
Crime and imprisonment
Men make up the vast majority of the prison population7 and with high rates of mental health problems and increasing rates of self-harm observed in prisons 8,9,, men in the prison system are a group in need of increasing support for their mental health.
In 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain, of these 75% were males10. Suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 5011.
Higher rates of suicide are also found in minority communities including gay men, war veterans, men from BAME backgrounds, and those with low incomes.12 One group that may be particularly vulnerable to death by suicide are middle-aged men from lower socio-economic backgrounds.5 This may be due to the interaction of a range of complexfactors that include: socioeconomic hardship, unemployment and underemployment, relationship breakdown, and lack of social support, all of which are common risk factors for suicide5,13. Further insights about risk factors for this group can be found on the Samaritan’s website.
Organisations that can help
If you need support, or want to learn more about men’s mental health, the below organisations are sources of further information and advice.