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Breaking the Silence: Strategies for Supporting Male Mental Health

Mental health issues affect everyone, but the approach and response to these issues can vary significantly between genders. For men, mainly, the stigma surrounding mental health can make it challenging to open up and seek help. Understanding why men might struggle to talk about their feelings and learning practical strategies to engage with them can make a profound difference.


A Closer Look at the Problem


According to Mental Health UK, while women are more frequently diagnosed with a mental health disorder, men are not necessarily less likely to experience significant struggles due to mental health symptoms. Notably, only 36% of NHS referrals for psychological therapies involve men, indicating a lower likelihood of seeking help, yet 77% of men surveyed said they experienced some level of symptoms such as anxiety, stress, or depression. Alarmingly, suicide is the leading cause of death among men under 50 in the UK, with men accounting for 75% of all suicide deaths and being three times more likely to die by suicide compared to women. Not seeking professional help for mental health support can lead to other negative consequences as a result of using poor coping skills. Research suggests that men are more likely than women to use alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism for mental health problems. In fact, men are more likely to die from alcohol-related causes and are two to three times more likely to misuse drugs than females.

 

Stressors impacting men's mental health include employment, financial concerns, physical appearance, inequalities based on race and ethnicity, and the impact of social media. The Get It Off Your Chest report by Mind revealed that employment and financial worries significantly affect the mental health of many people, with 45% of men reporting negative impacts due to job concerns and 41% due to economic worries.

 

Concerns about physical appearance are increasing, especially among younger men, who are heavily influenced by social media. This leads to stress over body image and can result in unhealthy behaviours such as excessive exercise or steroid misuse. Social media's role is complex, serving as both a source of support and a potential cause of anxiety and low self-esteem, with 37% of men feeling its negative impact.

 

The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the significant inequalities faced by Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, particularly within the context of mental health. Mind's engagement with a BAME steering group in their Get it Off Your Chest report emphasized the detrimental impact of racism on mental health, both through direct interpersonal discrimination and systemic issues within mental health services. Data show that Black men are disproportionately affected by severe mental health issues and face significant barriers in accessing necessary support.

 

Research indicates that boys from Black African and Caribbean backgrounds in the UK exhibit lower levels of mental health problems at age 11 compared to their White peers. However, as adults, these individuals are notably more likely to develop mental health issues such as schizophrenia and PTSD. This increased prevalence, which does not appear in predominantly Black countries, suggests environmental risks associated with living in northern Europe and the United States. BAME groups mistrust mental health services due to previous discriminatory experiences.

 



Why It's Hard for Men to Talk About Mental Health


The report by Mind highlights that men often externalize mental health issues, exhibiting anger or aggression when experiencing an internal emotional crisis. Males are preconditioned from a young age in a manner that discourages displaying deficiencies or weaknesses. Research shows that traditional societal expectations often pressure men to appear powerful and self-reliant. Traditional masculinity emphasizes certain masculine norms that promote men's power, dominance, and privilege. The idea of "acting like a man" reinforces these norms by condemning behaviors like crying or showing fear and upholding gender roles that bolster male dominance. This conditioning often results in males having difficulties expressing emotions or feeling discouraged from having vulnerabilities and instead encouraged to exhibit aggression and dominance.


According to the research reported by Mind in Get it Off Your Chest, men cite embarrassment and the fear of being labeled mentally ill as significant barriers to seeking help for mental health issues. Since 2009, there has been a slight decrease in men feeling embarrassed about seeking help (from 31% to 28%), with a similar trend observed in women (from 26% to 21%), slightly narrowing the gender gap. However, stigma remains a significant obstacle, more so for men, who also tend to have less mental health awareness and hold more negative attitudes towards it. Many men are reluctant to discuss mental health symptoms with professionals and often view these problems as a result of personal failings like a lack of self-discipline or willpower.


Adherence to these rigid masculine norms can have several adverse outcomes, including increased depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and, consequently, a reluctance to seek help. This societal conditioning can lead to men feeling isolated from their feelings, fearing judgment if they express vulnerability.





Strategies to Talk to Your Son, Sibling, or Male Family Member


Navigating mental health issues, particularly with men and boys, requires a compassionate and strategic approach. Cultivating an environment that encourages open dialogue and shared experiences is crucial.


1. Initiate Open Conversations: Start conversations about mental health in a non-judgmental way. You might discuss topics initially that are not directly related to their feelings but can lead to more in-depth discussions. When they do share their feelings with you, be accepting and supportive. Acknowledge that it is hard to talk about emotions and thank them for trusting you.


2. Encourage Activities Together: Sometimes, side-by-side activities like driving, walking, or working on a project can make it easier for men and boys to open up.


3. Be a Role Model: Demonstrate openness by sharing personal feelings and seeking help when needed. This can set a powerful example for transparency and trust.


4. Educate About Mental Health: Help them understand that mental health issues are common and treatable and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Champion that strength comes from accepting help.


Strategies Parents Can Use With Teenage Sons


1. Regular Check-ins: Make mental health check-ins a regular part of conversations. Ask open-ended questions encouraging your son to express his feelings about life, school, and friends.


2. Create a Safe Space: Ensure your son knows that home is a safe space to express feelings without fear of judgment or immediate solutions to 'fix' how they feel. Send a clear message that their emotional health is critical to you and communicate an open-door approach to discussing problems. Youth often avoid talking with parents about significant issues out of fear of disappointing or angering their parents.


3. Manage Social Media: Limit screen time by encouraging breaks from social media, which can be a source of stress and unrealistic comparisons. Have family rules around social media and openly discuss good social media etiquette. Help your son recognize toxic situations in life and digital culture and how to set good limits for themselves.


4. Encourage Physical Activity: Engage your son in sports or physical activities. Physical exercise is not only healthy for the body but also for the mind and can be an excellent outlet for stress. This can help support the adoption of lifelong healthy coping skills.


Tackling the stigma of mental health in men requires understanding, patience, and proactive communication. It's essential to change the narrative around male emotional expression and equip men with the tools and support they need to live healthier, happier lives. By fostering open communication and understanding within the family and advocating for broader societal changes, we can make significant strides in improving mental health for men.

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Jun 26
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

2 is good. Eye contact at these points rarely helps. Side by side allows for detachment as you become vulnerable. No idea why this works but it does.

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