Men and mental health: Get it off your chest
Mind week 9 – 16 May 2009
- 37% of men are feeling worried or low.
- Middle aged men are 7 times more likely than women to have suicidal thoughts.
- Only 23% of men would see their GP if they felt low for over a fortnight.
- Men were only half as likely to talk to friends about problems as women.
Leading mental health charity Mind today (Monday 11 May) publishes the shocking new report Men and mental health: Get it off your chest presenting evidence that the recession is having an adverse affect on men’s mental health (1). Mind’s You Gov survey found almost 40% of men are worried or low at the moment and the top 3 issues playing on their minds are job security, work and money. A small number of men were even experiencing suicidal thoughts – of these, middle-aged men were much more likely than women to have suicidal thoughts. Middle-aged men currently have the highest suicide rate in England and Wales (2).
Mind’s Get it off your chest campaign aims to get men to recognise the importance of talking about their problems and is calling for a strategy on men’s mental health, to match the existing women’s mental health strategy. Supporters with personal experience include Lord Melvyn Bragg, Alastair Campbell, Stephen Fry, actor Joe McGann and Heart FM DJ Matt Wilkinson.
Mind’s new YouGov survey of over 2000 men and women found that:
- 31% of men would feel embarrassed about seeking help for mental distress
- Just 14% of men (35-44yrs) would see a GP if they felt low compared to 37% of women
- 4% of young men (18-24yrs) would see a counsellor if they felt low compared to 13% of young women
- Only 31% of men would talk to their family about feeling low compared to nearly half of women
- Almost twice as many men as women get angry when they are worried
- 10% of men say they find sex the best way to relax compared to 4% of women
- Almost twice as many men as women drink alcohol to cope with feeling down
- Women are nearly 5 times more likely to get tearful than men
- 45% of men think they can fight off feeling down compared to 36% of women.
2.7 million men in England currently have a mental health problem like depression, anxiety or stress (3). Even though men and women experience mental health problems in roughly equal numbers, men are much less likely to be diagnosed and treated for it. The consequences of suffering in silence can be fatal – 75% of all suicides are by men (4). The recession could make the situation much worse, with one in seven men developing depression within six months of losing their jobs (5). Unemployment also increases the risk of suicide with research showing that two-thirds of men under 35yrs were out of work when they took their own life (6).
Mental health problems impact certain groups of men in different ways. African Caribbean men are more likely to receive disproportionately aggressive treatment – they are three times more likely than white men to be formally detained under the Mental Health Act and are more likely to receive invasive medical treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy. Gay and bisexual men are at significantly higher risk too, being over four times more likely than heterosexual men to attempt suicide (7).
Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: “The recession is clearly having a detrimental impact on the nation’s mental health but men in particular are struggling with the emotional impact. Being a breadwinner is something that is still crucial to the male psyche so if a man loses his job he loses a large part of his identity putting his mental wellbeing in jeopardy. The problem is that too many men wrongly believe that admitting mental distress makes them weak and this kind of self stigma can cost lives.”
“At this time, it’s really important that it’s as easy as possible for men to find the help they need. The Government has encouraged Primary Care Trusts to use some £80m on mental health and the recession this year, and there’s clearly a real need for them to act now to address men’s needs.”
“When men look for help, they can be put off by health premises that are geared more towards women. GP surgeries offering women’s magazines can feel like a hairdressers and make men feel uncomfortable. The NHS must become more ‘male-friendly’ offering treatments that appeal to men like exercise on prescription or computerised therapy and advertising their services in places men frequent.””It is a major health inequality that a mental health strategy exists for women but not men. There is an urgent need for the Government to address this in the New Horizons strategy for mental health. At the heart of this is a need to help men to recognise the importance of talking about their problems and make it easier for them to ask for help.”
Stephen Fry said: “For so long I tried to get on with my life and career, somehow coping with the huge highs and lows I experienced. If I had felt able to get it off my chest when I was younger I could have got more of the support I needed. Mind’s campaign will hopefully encourage men to speak out more – stumbling through and hiding behind a front of bravado doesn’t solve anything. Seek professional help when you need it – and support Mind to get better help and services out there.”
Alastair Campbell said: “Many people, especially men, find it very hard to be open about mental fragility. They see it as a sign of weakness, and do not like to ask for help. Or they cover it with drink or drugs or behaviour generally likely to end in tears. I certainly support Mind’s call for a government specific mental health strategy for men tailored to their needs. They have one for women and children so why not men?”
Mind’s recommendations include:
- The Government must produce the first men’s mental health strategy
- The criteria for diagnosing mental health problems should be expanded to include male acting out behavior (taking drugs, drinking, getting aggressive) as well as traditional signs of depression (sleepless nights, crying, feeling low).
- Men should be offered ‘male-friendly’ treatments like computerised therapy or exercise
- Health services should be advertised in places men frequent, such as gyms, pubs or the workplace
- GP surgeries should be gender neutral, men are often put off by what they consider an overly feminine environment
- Employers must do more to support their stressed male employees
- The needs of black and minority ethnic men must be made a priority for Strategic Health Authorities when the Delivering Race Equality strategy ends
- The relationship between sexuality, gender and mental wellbeing should be a core part of the training given to health and social services professionals.