It is a stark and tragic fact that the biggest cause of death among young men in the UK is now suicide. And in the majority of cases, people who lose their life through suicide have not been in contact with mental health services prior to their death.
The mental health of men and boys is the subject of growing concern as a result of the realisation that poor mental health is now a leading cause of ill health and dramatically poorer prospects throughout life. And with evidence that men are less likely to seek help for their mental health, and that only a third of people with a mental health problem get any treatment, the need to improve access to support has become clear.
The recently published national survey of wellbeing among adults in England showed that rates of mental ill health are lower for men than for women - and increasingly so as a result of a dramatic rise in levels of poor wellbeing among younger women since 2007.
This is not the case, however, in childhood. At the age of 11, boys have been found to be twice as likely as girls to have a mental health difficulty. The most common problems among younger children - especially boys - are behavioural problems. Young children in particular tend to communicate distress through behaviour, and between 5% and 10% of boys have severe and persistent behavioural problems. Children who have behavioural problems from a young age go on to have to poorest life chances of any group of children - including being 30 times as likely to end up in prison by the age of 30. Intervening early, particularly to help parents to settle their children's behaviour, is crucial to enhance the life chances of these children. Yet while most parents seek help, few ever get any.
In teenage years, girls begin to have higher levels of mental ill health than boys but we know that some groups of young people face much higher risks of poor mental health - including those who bully or are bullied, those with learning disabilities or autism, those who have been maltreated, and those who are excluded from school or who get into trouble with the police. So some groups of young men face particular risks for poor mental health and if they are not offered good quality help quickly their difficulties escalate over time to the point of a crisis. Yet sadly evidence suggests an average delay of a decade between the first signs of poor mental health in a young person and the start of effective treatment. In that time, there are many missed opportunities, in early years, in schools and colleges, and in workplaces, to offer the help that could make a difference.
Inequalities in mental health are evident throughout our lives. We know that unemployment, poverty and debt are major risk factors for mental health problems in adult life. We know that nine out of ten prisoners in England and Wales have at least one diagnosable mental health problem. We know that people with long-term physical illnesses are twice as likely to have a mental health problem, and those who do die sooner. And we know that men from African and Caribbean communities are more likely to be diagnosed with a psychosis, less likely to get access to talking therapies and they are more often detained under the Mental Health Act.
Addressing these inequalities will take significant investment in better and earlier mental health support, including in schools. It will mean working in partnership with people who use mental health services to redesign them to be more helpful and relevant to their needs. And it will mean putting right the imbalance in the NHS that still favours (and artificially separates) our physical health over our psychological wellbeing.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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