Exploring mental health in men

Understanding mental health

Men's Mental Health Illustration

Men and boys are all individuals with different circumstances, personalities, strengths, and challenges. However, as a collective, we know that men’s mental health is a topic that requires specific attention. This is, in part, because men and boys were traditionally taught to “toughen-up” and not being seen as “too emotional”. Society often still pushes men and boys to hide their feelings, and stigma around help-seeking can still be a major barrier to many men getting support when needed.

Despite positive men’s mental health campaigns and services it can be hard to unlearn many of the stereotypes that have historically been taught. In addition to this, certain biological, heredity, and lifestyle factors, put men at increased risk of certain mental health problems. 

What mental health issues impact men?

In Australia, an average of 7 men die by suicide every day. It sadly remains a leading cause of death spanning different age groups and is the single leading cause of death for men under 45 years. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, and as such this is often a primary focus of suicide prevention campaigns.

Over the lifespan, men also have a slightly higher overall prevalence of mental health problems (48% compared to 43% for women). For boys aged 4-17 this gap is even greater (ABS, 2019; Beyond Blue 2020).

While men typically have lower rates of depression and anxiety disorders than women, they still represent common mental health problems, impacting around 1 in 7 men in any given year. Men also have higher rates of issues such as problem drinking and drugs, and gambling addictions (Australian Men’s Health Forum, 2018), and higher incidences of some specific mental illnesses such as schizophrenia (Garvan Institute).

There is often a common misconception that certain mental health problems don’t impact men. For instance, men can experience eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and post-partum depression (after the birth of their child). For these issues that are typically viewed as gender-specific, the sense of shame or stigma can be even greater, and the access to diagnosis and clinical treatments can be more limited.

The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan 

The 5-step action plan taught through Mental Health First Aid training, provides a practical, skills-based way to deliver this support. This can be learned through one of our standard or targeted Mental Health First Aid (MHFA™) training courses.

    A – Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis

    L – Listen and communicate non-judgementally

    G – Give support and information

    E– Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help

    E – Encourage other supports

    “We need to move away from the idea that men should ‘toughen up’ because it’s the strong or noble thing to do. Seeking help and offering help is what makes us strong. We need to normalise men taking care of their mental health, and often that starts with someone else reaching out, offering support, and saying ‘it’s ok if you want to talk about this with me, let’s grab a coffee, go for a walk, or go kick the footy, and have a chat.”

    Rob Mason  – Curriculum Development Specialist at Mental Health First Aid Australia

    What cohorts of men experience additional risk? 

    While all men and boys need access to supports there are some cohorts of men who may be at increased risk of certain mental health problems:

    • Young men: Adolescent and young adult males have higher incidences of mental health problems overall (ABS, 2019; Beyond Blue 2020). This is in part due to a gamut of physiological, developmental, psycho-social and circumstantial changes that can occur rapidly during this time. Boys and young men are also still learning to find their voice when it comes to help seeking, and they require access to information, support, and modelling of positive behaviours.
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men: May be at increased risk of suicide, mental health problems and psychological distress (ABS 2019; AIHW 2020). It is important that they not only receive support that is appropriate for reducing the stigma of male help-seeking, but that their care is delivered in a culturally safe and respectful way. Equipping both First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians with the skills and knowledge to offer support is important, while also recognising the unique and vital role that First Nations communities have in building localised capacity for community-based care. 
    • Men in rural and remote communities: Men living in rural and remote communities, are at statistically greater risk of suicide, self-harm and certain mental illnesses, and it is suggested that these increase with the degree of remoteness (National Rural Health Alliance, 2017). Issues such as gaps in service access, regional unemployment, environmental disasters, economic distress, and social isolation can factor in. Creating positive connections and local community capacity for support can make a big difference. 
    • Men in high-risk industries: There are several industries and workforces that tend to have higher rates of mental health problems and suicide. This often includes male dominated industries such as: construction; trucking and transport; primary industry; mining; and defence. Men as first-responders and frontline medical staff (though these roles are also common among women) may also experience heightened distress, particularly during recent challenges such as COVID-19. A key focus needs to be on equipping workplaces with mental health support options.
    • Men going through challenging times: Men who have recently experienced (or are going through) difficult times may be at increased risk. This can include, men going through divorce or separation, men who have experienced personal loss, men experiencing challenging work or financial situations, or men who have experienced trauma. Whatever the reason, there are ways that we can support people through challenging times to get them the help they need. 
    • Men with a history of mental health problems: While anyone can experience a mental health problem, factors such as existing diagnosis and heredity play a role in the likelihood of developing, worsening or crisis-level mental health problems. Understanding the different mental illnesses experienced by boys and men and what signs, symptoms and treatments might apply, can be helpful to recognising and responding to individual needs.
    • GBTQI Men: The concept of men and ‘maleness’ as both sex and gender can be confining and limiting. They can also impact the experience of mental health problems and access to appropriate care. Men and boys who identify as non-binary are at greater risk of psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and behaviours and self-harm exacerbated by stigma, discrimination, abuse, bullying and harassment (Orygen, 2022). When discussing mental health support for men and boys, we must consider everyone who identifies in this way, and making mental health support safe for all.
    • Men as they age: As men age, they may experience physiological, social and emotional changes that impact their overall health and well-being. Everyone has heard about the concept of ‘midlife’ crisis, and some international surveys suggest that as many as 26% of people claim to have experienced one (Very Well Mind, 2021). The impacts of illness, disability, financial uncertainty and social isolation need to be considered as people age. For older Australian men, particularly those living in assisted living or aged care, and those who have lost a spouse, the risks of mental illness are high. We need to make support available to all men, across the lifespan.

    While groupings such as this allow us to target mental health support to those who might be at heightened risk, it is important to know that MHFA training can support men from all walks of life.  

    5 ways to help improve men’s mental health:

    1) Training: By equipping yourself with Mental Health First Aid knowledge and skills you will be able to provide practical support to the boys and men in your home, school, workplace or community.

    2) Reduce stigma: Reducing misconceptions and busting myths about mental health is important. Encouraging men to talk about their mental health openly and honestly, and then listening in a respectful and encouraging way is powerful.

    3) Model positive behaviours: Men can model positive lifestyle and help-seeking behaviours to other men. This can be particularly important for young men to see. Some positive behaviours include:

    • Talking openly about thoughts, feelings, emotions and issues impacting mental health
    • Demonstrating concern and empathy for others including those experiencing challenges
    • Reaching out to those doing it tough – this can include practising Mental Health First Aid and any other genuine offers of support and connection
    • Practising and encouraging self-care – this includes taking care of your mental, physical, social and emotional wellbeing, and building protective factors into your lifestyle
    • Help-seekingcontacting a GP, Counsellor, Psychologist or Employee Assistance Program to get talking about your own mental health
    • Creating awareness – getting involved in spreading the word about mental health more broadly. Some examples include:
      • Promoting Mental Health First Aid at your workplace, school or community group
      • Running a well-being program in your workplace, school or community
      • Becoming an MHFA Officer or MHFA Instructor
      • Sharing information and facts, including articles like these

    4) Look out for signs and take action: Learn to recognise the signs and symptoms that may identify that a boy or man you know might be developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of a mental health problem or crisis situation. From there you can offer support and follow the steps of our practical ALGEE Action Plan.

    5) Keep talking: Don’t stop talking about, learning about, and advocating for positive mental health for everyone. Ensuring an accurate, honest and supportive dialogue with the people in your family, school, workplace, club and/or community is important for all.

    Men’s mental health impacts everyone. We all have a role to play.

    Read More Articles 

    Covering a wide range of current and topical issues and taking a closer look at some of the common types of mental health problems, our articles are the perfect way to enhance your knowledge and understanding.

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