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The Complex Reality of Men's Mental Health



I love the men in my life dearly. 


They are sensitive, strong, curious and fun. They enrich my life in so many awesome and amazing ways. But there is a shadow to the way they navigate their emotional landscapes - ESPECIALLY those over 40. 


I have always known this shadow was there. For some it reaches farther and goes deeper than for others. It seems to express itself at different times and in different ways but it's impact can still be felt in them all to some degree or another. 


Which is what brought me to write this article today.


Working in the mental health field means I have a lot of conversations. I hear what my clients, family & friends think of many things, including their jobs, their homes, themselves and the ‘others’ in their lives (spouses, family, children and associates). 


It is when these conversations are regarding men that they tend to turn rather unflattering.


In these moments I hear men being labeled as ‘narcissists’, emotionally vacant, or unresponsive (labels I hear RARELY applied to women). There is a heavy implication that many men are deliberately selfish, egocentric or uncaring. 


It isn't that these opinions, perceptions or views are WRONG. I am not here to judge someone else's experience - especially without both sides of the story.


But they do highlight an underlying issue surrounding how society views men’s mental health - as well as how we talk about it. 


The discussion is one that lacks in several areas.


For starters, when it comes to mental health, men tend to be underrepresented, under supported and, under acknowledged. 


Let me explain.


Data indicates women are 3x more likely than men to suffer mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (mentalhealth.org), however reality may be more nuanced than the data suggests.


Many coaching and mental health practitioners report that their practices are 80% women or higher. Women have been shown to be more likely to seek help for mental health issues, leading to higher rates of identification and treatment. Some mental health conditions also present differently in men and women, leading to different rates of diagnosis. 


Historical research biases have also played a role in shaping the conversations around mental health, as men were not traditionally ‘targeted’ for the mental health discussion in the same way as women, especially in early research. A variety of factors played into this, including societal expectations around gender roles, differences in coping mechanisms, and biological factors.


This raises an important question: do men experience mental health issues less frequently (as the numbers might indicate), making them a naturally smaller part of the conversation, or are their struggles simply less documented, meaning they wrestle in silence without their voices or concerns accurately represented? 


Enter nuance.


  • In Canada and the UK men's suicide rates are three times higher than women's, while in the US they are 4x higher.

  • Nearly three-quarters of adults who go missing are men.

  • Men are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol and three times as likely to report frequent drug use.

  • Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime (1.5 more likely than women)

  • Men make up the vast majority of the prison population.​


When looking at these statistics, there seems to be a significant disparity between the reported outcomes of the population and those statistics telling us who is most likely to experience the things that might lead to those outcomes.


But there's more.


Further studies show only around 30% of people who use mental health services are men, and according to a study by PrioryGroup, 40% of men won't even talk to anyone about their mental health.


But does this mean men who act out in emotionally immature ways are egocentric and selfish?


It all causes me to wonder - If a large portion of men aren’t using mental health services or talking about their issues (not even to their closest friends), wouldn’t assuming they suffer less or that their actions are driven by selfishness be nothing short of…well…short-sighted?



WHY MEN AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THEIR HEALTH


According to the Priory Group, for the 40% of men who said they “don't talk to anyone about their mental health, their underlying reasons were:


  • ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it' (40%)

  • 'I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone' (36%)

  • ‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)

  • ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)

  • ‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%)

  • ‘I don’t want to appear weak’ (16%)

  • ‘I have no-one to talk to’ (14%)

Almost one quarter (22%) of respondents said they would not feel comfortable speaking to their GP or any other professional about their mental health. The main reason given was that they worry it would be a waste of their GP’s time.”


It is alarming to consider how many people might be suffering in silence, stuffing their challenges or pushing down their experiences due to social stigma, societal expectations, fear, isolation or all of the above.


Holding stuff inside simply doesn’t work. 


It is no wonder I hear such widespread reports of emotional garbage coming from men. If they don’t have a safe environment or supportive outlet in place that they feel they can use to figure things out, what else do we expect to happen?


And it isn’t enough to say ‘the resources exist’. If men are saying they don’t feel they can or should access those resources, there is a gap. Maybe it is how the support systems are presented or how they are set up. Maybe it is accessing them without stigma. Whatever it is, it is time we stopped assuming that making the resource available is enough to solve the problem. 


Safe happens on the terms of the person who is feeling unsafe, not those providing the solutions.



MOVING TOWARDS A WORKABLE SOLUTION


It is vitally important to get curious about what we can do to move forward. 


Clearly the status-quo isn’t working, and although strides are being made in the right direction, there is so much more to be done. 


Firstly, I would love to invite a change in the way we talk about and approach men's mental health. We need to acknowledge that the conversation needs to happen in a different way than it does for women. We also need to get clear about the specific barriers that prevent men from seeking help, and invite them into the conversation in a way that works for THEM (which is likely very different from the way these systems work for and support women). 


We also need to significantly adjust how we as a society approach, talk about and treat early signs of anger, violence, addiction and other indicators of unresolved mental health issues. We must remove the stigmas between men and mental health so they aren’t isolated from or resistant to support while also addressing the underlying issues that contribute to their struggles.


I believe it IS possible to create a more honest and inclusive dialogue, but not without first recognizing the gap that exists in the current conversation. Only then can we approach the monster that is mental health in a way that truly provides healing for us all.


Xo


Coach Anna Lang


EDITORS NOTES:

  1. I am not saying that harmful emotional expression is justified. It isn’t. Not for anyone, regardless of how they identify. What I AM saying is that if we fail to provide the safety required for people to properly process the stuff inside that is eating them alive, that harmful emotional expression is not only logical…in many cases it will be inevitable as well.

  2. I recognize that this article focuses on the comparison between two gender groups and does not address the full diversity of gender and identity as it relates to mental health. I recognize that it focuses on a specific issue as it relates to the available data for one part of our society, and would like to be clear that my intent was not to alienate any other parties, or to imply they are not without their own struggles or importance in this conversation.

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