When we think about inequality in mental health, certain groups may come to mind—women facing unique challenges, individuals from marginalised backgrounds, or those with limited access to resources. However, there's a significant aspect of this inequality that often remains unnoticed—the disparity in men's mental health.
Society has made progress in addressing mental health issues. But men's mental health concerns have often been overlooked or underestimated. It's time to recognise that inequality in mental health doesn't discriminate based on gender, and men are not immune to its effects.
The 6 Unspoken Realities of Men's Mental Health
As a woman, I, like many others, wasn't fully aware of the depth of these barriers until men began sharing their stories behind the therapy door. This is what they've taught me—about how societal expectations, early socialisation, and conflicting messages can create barriers to openness that lead to better health and save lives.
Secrecy Surrounding Men's Mental Health: When I delve into discussions with men about their mental well-being, I often ask a simple question: "Who else is aware of what you're experiencing?" Instead of hearing about close friends or family members, it's dishearteningly common for men to say, "nobody." This silence speaks volumes about the isolation many men experience as they grapple with their inner battles alone.
The Mask of Masculinity: From a young age, boys receive a clear message from society: emotions are seen as feminine, and showing vulnerability risks their masculinity. This lesson starts in school, where opening up can lead to ridicule. It's the first hint of a lifelong socialisation process that enforces silence. As boys grow, they learn to appear tough, suppressing their emotions to fit society's stereotype of what a man should be.
Navigating Mixed Expectations: Men often juggle conflicting messages. They're expected to be both tough and sensitive, but there's an unspoken limit to how much vulnerability is acceptable. This delicate balancing act can result in emotional suppression, causing relationship difficulties. On one hand, partners may complain about emotional distance, while on the other, some may argue that men are too sensitive. This creates a challenging terrain for men to navigate in their quest for authenticity.
The Vulnerability Conundrum: Someone shared in class three words that sum up what is expected of a man- be stoic, be strong and be the provider. For a long time, there's been this idea that real men should always be strong and composed, no matter what's going on inside. It means they're expected to keep their emotions in check, tough it out, and never admit they're struggling. This pressure often results in guys holding back their feelings, avoiding seeking support, and hesitating to talk openly about their issues.
Perpetuating the Silence: The cycle of silence around men's mental health is substantial. Faced with personal challenges, many men opt to keep their struggles hidden, driven by societal pressures. This silence further reinforces the notion that men should conceal their mental battles, sustaining a cycle that hinders progress toward open conversations.
The Emotional Straitjacket: Society often confines men to a narrow emotional spectrum, where expressions of anger, frustration, and stress are deemed acceptable, even expected. This limited range of acceptable emotions further stifles authentic self-expression, discouraging men from exploring and openly sharing a broader array of humanness. The emotional straitjacket restricts their ability to articulate complex emotions, leaving them with few outlets for genuine self-expression and connection with others.
A Closer Look at Men's Experiences
Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to experience common mental health problems compared to their male counterparts.”
The statistic above one I read in varying forms. If it were accurate, you’d expect to see fewer mental health crises among men. I offer a less represented perspective on these statistics to account for the gender gap:
“Men are twice as likely to silently experience mental health challenges, contributing to a pervasive, public health crisis.”
Let's examine the statistics to gain insight into what’s more likely to reflect reality.
Highlighting inequality in men’s mental health: 4 shocking stats that dispel the myth.
These always hit hard with me because I meet the people behind the masks. The real stories and the times I’ve worked with guys who want to end it all.
Men, as per the government's national wellbeing survey, report lower levels of life satisfaction compared to women.
Men are nearly three times more likely than women to develop alcohol dependence and report frequent drug use.
An alarming three-quarters of adults who go missing happen to be men.
The most staggering statistic of all: Three times as many men as women succumb to suicide. Statistics from Mental Health Foundation
In the therapy room, it’s much easier to talk. But getting the conversation started outside these walls can be a barrier. It's a conundrum where simply posing the question and carving out space for discussion is insufficient, given the significant social repercussions at stake. But there's promise in indirect avenues and clues hidden within other statistics, suggesting language can play a transformative role.
Discussions around stress and pressure, interestingly, reduce the gap. A recent survey showed only a 4% difference in comfort levels between the genders when discussing pressure and stress with line managers. It makes sense based on what I’ve learned from real stories- stress is on the approved list for emotional expression. When delivering mental health first aid training, I also see the gender divide evens out. I suspect this is because the training is about helping others, allowing men to learn about the topic comfortably whilst remaining within societal expectations of being the protector.
We must carefully reconsider the language we use to disseminate life-saving information. At WellBe, we are actively involved in designing courses training people to assist others whilst also equipping them with the tools to help themselves. It involves navigating the delicate balance of projecting strength while discreetly sharing valuable insights on stress management and positive mental health.
Finally, a message to anyone reading this. If this blog resonates with you, please contact someone. An array of confidential services are on offer. Check out the hub of hope for what’s available in your area, including 24/7 support for suicide.
Our Training Programs Help Address Barriers to Having Conversations Sooner.
We've just been awarded funding to address the gap in men's mental health. To find out more about this topic and how we are addressing inequalities in the local area, contact us. Our training team has a wide range of skills across sectors, all psychologically informed. We currently offer training courses, including Adult Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid, and Tailored topics in stress and burnout. We can also provide training in any topics we support in our counselling practice. See Topics below.
From stress, pressure, and burnout to relationship issues, breakups, anxiety, and depression, our comprehensive counselling service covers a wide range of topics essential for promoting mental health and overall wellbeing.
Topics we support our clients with include self-esteem, confidence, anger, grief and loss, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, OCD, workplace conflicts, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, social isolation, communication skills, boundaries, coping with change, resilience-building, mindfulness, body image, career transitions, financial stress, parenting challenges, caregiver stress, trauma and PTSD, balancing work and personal life, loneliness and isolation, emotion and nervous system regulation, assertiveness training, procrastination and motivation, positive psychology interventions, stress management techniques, relaxation exercises, conflict resolution skills, building healthy relationships, enhancing emotional a, and much awareness and much more.