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Let’s talk about male mental health stigma

Why is the stigma around men’s mental health issues still hanging around in 2023?

In this article
Male mental health stigma: what the stats sayWhy does mental health stigma affect men more than women? The role of therapy in treating men’s mental health problems

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  • Male mental health stigma involves harmful stereotypes and prejudices surrounding men's mental health, leading to a reluctance to seek help, misdiagnosis, and self-stigma.
  • One in eight men will experience a mental health issue this year and evidence suggests mental health stigma affects men more than women.
  • Toxic masculinity expects men to be strong, silent, and the higher earner, but a grow number of male mental health role models are challenging these norms.
  • The symptoms of poor mental health are the same in men and women: a noticeable shift in mood, poor concentration, lack of confidence, emotional exhaustion, and becoming socially withdrawn.
  • Support male mental health in your team by building a supportive and inclusive culture, share resources, and have regular conversations about mental health.

What is male mental health stigma?

Male mental health stigma refers to the harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and prejudices surrounding men's mental health issues. It stems from societal expectations, 'traditional' gender roles, and cultural norms that often discourage men from talking openly about their emotions (particularly when they're struggling). This stigma can have dangerous consequences, including:

  • Reluctance to seek help: Men may avoid reaching out for professional help or even support from friends and family because they're worried about being perceived as weak or unable to cope.
  • Bottling up emotions: Men might suppress their emotions and avoid talking about their mental health, leading to increased stress, and social withdrawal.
  • Misdiagnosis: Mental health stigma can mean that men downplay their symptoms and hide the reality of how they're really feeling, which can lead to under-diagnosis or misdiagnosis.
  • Self-stigma: Internalising this stigma can lead to negative self-perceptions, causing men to struggle with self-esteem, self-worth, and overall confidence.

Let's look at the statistics on men's mental health

One in eight men will experience a mental health issue this year. That’s an alarming proportion, but statistically, they’re at lower risk than women. While biological factors mean women are more likely to suffer from disorders like depression or anxiety, it’s possible that part of this gender gap also reflects the fact that men are less likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem (not that they’re necessarily less likely to experience one).

There’s evidence to suggest that mental health stigma – a sense of shame associated with mental health problems – affects men more than women. Research from Priory claims that 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health, and of those men, 29% say they’re too embarrassed, while 20% blame the “negative stigma” attached. Not being able to acknowledge that they’re struggling makes men less likely to seek help. Only 36% of people referred to talking therapies by the NHS are men.

The impact of male mental health stigma

Men’s mental health issues are strongly correlated to some other scary statistics. More than two-thirds of the people in treatment for substance misuse in the UK are men, and suicide is still the most common cause of death for men under the age of 50. In fact, 75% of deaths from suicide in the UK are men

We’re referencing studies focusing on binary gender labels for this article, but non-binary and genderqueer people also have a significant risk of experiencing mental health stigma, among the other risks associated with being a marginalised group. 

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Why does mental health stigma affect men more than women? 

Stigma is an itchy shame blanket that’s applied by society at large, or by yourself. We’ve written about the perils of self-stigma before, but when we’re talking about men’s mental health stigma, it becomes particularly relevant. Toxic masculinity’s ideas about ‘manliness’ have a lot to answer for. The cardboard cut-out “man” that Western culture admires for being a strong, silent, breadwinner is not actually a great role model for male mental health (shocker). These idealised traits are problematic and damaging in their own, special ways. 

How does toxic masculinity affect men's mental health?

💪 Strong

The expectation to ‘stay strong’ for yourself and others means it may take a long time to even recognise that you’re struggling with things you would have achieved easily before. 

🤐 Silent

Even if you have recognised poor mental health symptoms in yourself, men are more likely to engage in avoidant behaviours as adults. If you’ve been raised to see discussing emotions or asking for help as a sign of weakness, it’s hard to break that pattern in adulthood.

💰 Breadwinners

The pressure to provide has been reinforced by centuries of male-dominated workforces. It’s no surprise then, that the biggest triggers for poor mental health in men today are work and finances

The rise of male mental health role models

Things are getting better. In recent years we've seen male mental health role models become much more visible and mainstream, encouraging others to openly discuss and share positive mental health practices, share their own experiences and combat stigma surrounding men's mental health issues.

Figureheads as diverse as Prince William, Jonah Hill and Jamie Laing are speaking up about men’s mental health issues, and an impassioned speech by UFC lightweight Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett reached a massive audience of men at his fight with Jordan Leavitt at UFC London. 

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The role of therapy in treating men’s mental health problems

The stigma around men’s mental health issues extends to seeking professional help. Therapy is proven to be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health problems, but it does rely on you being vulnerable in front of another person. That can be an emotional hurdle. 

The stigma of going to therapy also has a role to play. The more we normalise therapy as a form of self-maintenance and self-improvement for our mental health (like a gym for our brains) the less stigma there’ll be around seeking therapy for mental health treatment specifically. 

The more male role models we see in therapy, the better. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Spill's Founder Calvin and our Head of Brand Will talked about their experiences in therapy for our series ‘Boys with Feelings’.

Reducing male mental health stigma in the workplace

If the workplace has a role to play in causing men’s mental health problems, then our workplaces have a responsibility to provide adequate support. Men and boys are particularly vulnerable to social isolation, which is often a precursor to mental health issues, and a risk factor in suicide, too. As more workplaces become remote-first, we need to make sure our support systems are stronger than ever. 

Spotting the signs of male mental health issues

The symptoms of poor mental health are the same in men or women. Here are some behavioural and physical signs that could indicate someone is struggling with their mental health and needs support:

  • A noticeable shift in mood, especially feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Poor concentration, low productivity or difficulty focussing
  • Lack of confidence
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Physical changes including weight loss or being sick more often that usual

How to support men's mental health in your team

Supporting men's mental health at work is essential to ensure a healthy and productive work environment. Here are five ways you can help encourage an open dialogue around men's mental health and wellbeing:

  1. Build a supportive and inclusive culture: Create a work environment that encourages open communication, understanding, and empathy towards all employees. This includes promoting diversity, inclusion, and a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment or discrimination.
  2. Share resources and provide training: Access to proper mental health support (like Spill) – which is visible to all employees – is an effective way to drive awareness, reduce stigma, and improve managers' ability to support employees who are struggling with their mental health.
  3. Encourage regular conversations about mental health: Create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing mental health concerns without fear of judgment. Encourage managers to have regular check-ins with their whole team, and proactively ask people how they're feeling each week.
  4. Establish mental health support groups: Implement peer-to-peer support groups or mentoring programs where male employees can share their experiences and provide mutual support. This can help people feel like they're not alone, and build connections with others who are going through a similar thing.
  5. Lead by example: Encourage senior male management to openly discuss their own mental health experiences and tips for prioritising their wellbeing in the workplace.

At Spill, we believe that providing easy access to therapy is the key to helping your whole team thrive at work. If you’re already struggling with your mental health, calling an anonymous phone line can feel like an intimidating step. That’s why Spill makes it easy to access qualified therapists straight in Slack or MS Teams. Any employee can book a 1-1 therapy session or send a written message to a therapist in just a couple of clicks. And best of all, it’s totally anonymous. So until we’re all ready to shout about going to therapy from the rooftops, there’s an easy way to opt-in without the pressure of talking to Brian from HR first. 

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