HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
With the profile of mental health higher than it's ever been we must remember that, despite how far we've come, there is still much work to be done. Huge inequalities still exist in many aspects of mental health and one of the starkest of these is the gender divide. As hackneyed as it may seem, collectively men are still regularly conforming to the stereotype, struggling in silence, self-medicating with drink and drugs and eventually 'acting out' when they reach crisis point.
Traditional gender roles have a lot to answer for here. The image of the strong, silent, 'tough guy' is so widespread that often men are unwilling to speak out and seek support. Our research found that one in three men said they would be embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health problem and less than a quarter of men would visit their GP if they felt down for more than two weeks, in comparison to a third of women.
At least part of this can be put down to stigma. Despite the fact that we all have mental health to look after just as we do physical health, it is still a taboo subject. Because of this, men often self-stigmatise, falling foul of the idea that 'real men don't cry'. Men tend to try and be self-sufficient, keeping problems to themselves.
We found that men are half as likely to talk to their friends about problems as women and only a third of men would discuss worries with their relatives, compared to half of women. While women tend to have a solid network of friends and family with whom they are comfortable discussing emotional issues, men are much more likely to rely solely on their partner - if anyone at all. This puts men at a real risk of emotional isolation, which can worsen mental health problems.
Instead men often try and find ways of dealing with their problems independently rather than reaching out and sharing their problems. Instead of talking about their problems, men prefer to watch TV, go out and do exercise, or drink alcohol, whereas women were twice as likely to talk to their friends, when trying to unwind.
We also need to accept that the way men react to mental health problems also tends to be different from women. Men are more likely to externalise symptoms or 'act out', displaying aches and pains or becoming angry and frustrated. However, criteria for diagnosing mental health problems like depression focus on things like low mood and low energy levels- so men can struggle to get their symptoms recognised for what they are.
In terms of treatments themselves, men we surveyed said that two things that would make them more likely to seek help would be the availability of online support and an assurance of anonymity. Examples of this, like online CBT, do already exist, but we need to see services take a more considered approach in promoting and supporting men's treatment options.
It's not an issue we can afford to ignore. The ultimate consequence of not getting the help you need can be fatal. We lose over 6,000 people through suicide every year. That's well over a hundred people a week - and three quarters of these are men. Or to put it another way: if you are a man under the age of 35, the thing that is most likely to kill you is yourself. This cannot stand. We have a duty as a society to prevent men from getting to the point that they can no longer see a way of going on and feel they have no alternative.
Everyone deserves support for their mental health when they need it and there is lots available. Mind's Infoline (0300 123 3393) offers confidential advice on mental health problems and we have also just launched a free guide to coping with one of the most common of all mental health problems, anxiety (text ANXIETY to 70660 to get your guide). All it takes is that first small step in reaching out for support, but that can make all the difference.
Movember represents a fantastic opportunity to bring men's mental health out of the shadows and to start having a frank discussion about it. We need to get to the point that men feel as at ease talking about their mental health as they would a broken arm. We need to help men equate seeking help not with weakness, but with doing something that shows courage and strength. It is, after all, profoundly brave to face up to something as stigmatised as a mental health problem. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that big boys can and do cry. And that's ok.
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