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Thought Leadership

Men’s Mental Health: ‘Man up?’ Man Down

By Onyx Health | 18th November 2022

Read Time: 7 minutes

Unhealthy cultural traditions have, over decades, placed unprecedented amounts of pressure on men to ‘hold emotions in’, be unwavering, and to be the breadwinner for their families. Think of the expression ‘just man up’. Aside from the perpetuated misogyny associated with those two simple words, the phrase itself implies that one can be more or less of a man based on their behaviour, which in turn leaves many afraid to admit to their struggles.

With men feeling more inclined to pursue certain behaviours (such as acting more in control than they actually are when faced with a dilemma) with the intent of meeting societal expectations, they’re inadvertently impacting their mental health. A 2018 survey conducted by YouGov revealed that 53% of young men are expected to never ask for emotional support, and 61% feel like UK society expects them to simply, ‘man up’, when faced with a challenging task1. As the issues of men’s mental health are often silenced in society, Onyx Health demonstrates its support for this challenging stigma by producing this piece with intent to raise awareness of the issues at hand.

The stigma behind men’s mental health

Stigma and discrimination are complex and prevalent issues that contribute significantly to the silence behind men’s mental health. Mental health stigma is attributed to the negative attitudes exhibited towards a person(s) experiencing mental health illness, rooted in the misconceptions that mental illness falsely falls on an individual having a weak character2. Although, both men and women are affected by mental illness, the stigma surrounding men’s health, particularly around mental illness, has profound and extensive consequences that go beyond the condition(s). This stigma adds to the increasing burden of mental illness, contributing to factors that affect various help-seeking behaviours, including access to education, employment, housing, and social support3.

We need to eliminate barriers between men and mental health care and eradicate unhelpful perspectives like “just deal with it”. What is our first course of action? Breaking the silence and normalising conversations about mental health. We need to remind men that is “okay not to be okay”, so that we can shift cultural norms that would offer men access to openly display their emotions and access therapy without shame.

Masculine norms and barriers to seeking help

Of the factors that contribute to the barriers to seeking help for mental health are masculine norms – the social rules that define and constrain masculine behaviours expected by a given culture4. In many cases, boys are told to keep quiet about their feelings and ‘be strong’ from childhood. For instance, many men’s sense of worth is tied up with societal indicators of success, such as financial status, career development, and what they can provide for their families5. In turn, this can lead to unhealthy competitiveness and sacrifice of some of life’s precious moments to achieve such ‘success’. However, the ‘ideal’ that most men work to is often set too high which results inadvertent failure.

Although masculine norms have in past times been essential for a specific societal action (such as war), when certain “masculine” qualities such as acting strong or being an emotional pillar are enforced in unhealthy and “toxic” mannerisms, boys and men begin to lack help-seeking behaviours. Say, for example, a man has worked himself to failure and recognised a problem that warrants help, will he look for it? Probably not. It is well documented that men are more reluctant to seek help for mental health concerns than women6. Owing to stigma and other prominent factors, too many men elect to avoid the use of mental health services. The result – for far too many men – is suicide. Thus, mental health awareness, whether that may be by day or month, is necessary to eradicate forms of toxic masculinity and help put an end to this silent epidemic.

This silent epidemic is a public health concern

Various media outlets describe men’s mental health as the ‘silent epidemic’7, highlighting its status as a public health concern that begs attention. The harrowing statistics defined by low rates of diagnosed depression and even higher rates of suicide8, along with the under-use of mental health services6, demonstrate the complexity of this multifactorial condition that we must grapple with to help men overcome the barriers to adequate mental health care.

As stated by the UK Mental Health Foundation, suicide takes the lives of three times more men than women9. Statistics show that over 40% of the men admit to regularly feeling worried or low, while reports of common mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression are even lower at 13.2%10. In 2019, the number of men who admitted to having suicidal ideations when feeling low has doubled since 2009, and the male suicide rate in England and Wales remains consistent with pre-pandemic figures, at 10.7 deaths per 100,00011. However, it is widely thought that the reality of this burden is far greater than the statistical representation, partly due to large proportion of undiagnosed cases still fighting the battle today.

Why is it different for men? Don’t we all experience the same symptoms of depression?

Diagnosing mental health issues in men can prove to be difficult. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or the general feeling of wanting to be alone can hit anyone regardless of their sex, age, gender, religion, or culture. However, the symptoms, and the way we respond to these symptoms, can vary considerably among individuals. Statistics show that women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression12. Why?

Although genetic factors may play a part in these statistics13, the gender gap in depression and mental illness can also be blamed. For instance, women are more likely to express their feelings of depression and anxiety by displaying signs of sadness, crying, and reaching out for help14. On the other hand, men who struggle with mental health are more likely express feelings of anxiety and depression as signs of anger and irritability, or even turn to various destructive behaviours such as using alcohol and drugs15.

Because these behaviours may be attributed to several mental health conditions or other medical issues, professional help is key to an accurate diagnoses and corresponding treatment. Anxiety and depression treatment is widely available in the UK in the forms of psychological counselling (therapy), medication, or both. Don’t try to “tough it out” on your own. The consequences can be devastating for you and your family members.

World Mental Health Awareness Week

Despite advancements being made in the recognition and treatment of mental illness, we live in a society where masculine norms prevail. Unfortunately, this means that men are still denying the fact that they may not be alright and are more reluctant to reach out for help.

Mental Health Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of mental health and mental illness. We want to shine the spotlight on the effects of mental illness in men and fight the longstanding stigma barricading their access to mental health services. We encourage you to use this week to reach out to those struggling with mental health to voice their concerns and seek help. For those of you looking for more ways to participate in this year’s World Mental Health Awareness Week, why not try one of the following:

1. Share your story – by speaking about any previous experience you may have had with mental illness; you will be actively breaking the stigma associated with the condition(s) whilst encouraging others to do the same. Make the first step in normalising conversations about mental health.

2. Signpost to appropriate resources – mental health resources are plentiful both online and within your surrounding communities. If you know anybody who’s struggling with mental illness, why not step up and refer them to the appropriate services? Feel free to share the following mental health resources with anyone within your network:
SPUK – suicide prevention charity and helpline: 08006895652
National Institute of Mental Health
Samaritans: 24/7 mental health help 116123

Get it off your chest

Disrupting the way men think about depressive or suicidal thoughts is key to breaking down the stigma associated with men’s mental health. Rather than making men feel flawed or ashamed of how they’re feeling, we need to help men recognise that feeling down and facing their struggles is a totally normal occurrence. To help men who are troubled by depression, anxiety, panic attack disorders, and all other mental health conditions, we need to change their perspectives about mental health services.

Asking for help – in any way or form – is GOOD. Depression is common and most often entirely treatable. Though it may be a daunting task to ask for help at first, understand that there are trained mental health professionals who are always available to support you and your need. We all respond differently the curveballs thrown at us during life, yet it is important to know that even when taking the toughest routes, there still will be an avenue to help. Take the time in this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week to examine mental health resources and speak up about your feelings. Help is only a click away.


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