We look at why mental health stigma affects men more than women
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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Things are getting better. 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.
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 Founder Calvin and our Head of Brand Will talked about their experiences in therapy for our series ‘Boys with Feelings’.
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.
At Spill, we want to get as many people into therapy as possible. And we believe that providing easy access to therapy at work is the key to making that happen. 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.
We’ve got lots of practical ideas to fight any mental health stigma that exists in your workplace. Alternatively, take a look at how Spill can help you to install a robust mental health support system at work.