Research into men’s mental health shows that, while some progress has been made, men feel worried or low more regularly than ten years ago and are consequently twice as likely to feel suicidal.
‘Get It Off Your Chest: Men’s mental health 10 years on’ was commissioned by Mind as part of its charity partnership with the English Football League (EFL).
The report compares new polling data from YouGov with the same survey from 2009 to understand how the challenges facing men’s mental health have changed over the past decade.
The results paint a mixed picture, suggesting that, while men generally feel more able to seek help and open up about their mental health than a decade ago, those with current worries are still relying on coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol alone (13% vs 9%) and taking recreational drugs (4% vs 1%).
Joe, 29, a teacher from Colchester, explained how difficult it was to open up about his mental health struggles.
‘By 16 my depression and eating disorder got so bad I had to drop out of everything.
‘I stopped following or playing football altogether, losing touch with friends in the process. For a teenage boy, having an eating disorder, which are more associated with girls, meant I didn’t feel able to talk about it with friends or seek help.
‘When I did build up the energy to go to a doctor, the experience was horrendous. I was in the chair for less than a couple of minutes, in which time he didn’t even look up at me once. He just handed me a prescription for medication and sent me away.
‘It was also hard to talk with family about how I felt as, although they were concerned, they took a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to it.
‘It hasn’t been until much more recently that I’ve felt able to open up to them about what I went through those years ago.
‘Seeing mental health much more visibly in the footballing world, like Mind’s squiggle on the back of the Colchester United shirt, has meant I’ve felt more comfortable talking about it, particularly when I could go to match days with my Dad.’
The report finds that men’s help-seeking behaviour has improved and men are now three times more likely to see a therapist, if they felt worried or low for two weeks or more than in 2009.
Men’s willingness to seek support from their GP has also jumped significantly and they are now equally as willing as women to do this (both 35%).
This suggests that the stigma around seeking support is lessening, with awareness-raising campaigns such as Time to Change challenging stereotypes of the ‘strong, silent’ man.
The report also suggests that more effort should be made by healthcare professionals to provide alternatives to medication for men as they are not always receiving a range of treatment options that suit them.
When asked to imagine they were seeing a GP about feeling anxious or low and didn’t want to be prescribed medication, the top alternatives that men would prefer are face-to-face therapy (32%), physical activity (15%) or a social activity (14%).
While social media was very much present in 2009, it is clear that its influence over men’s mental wellbeing is now significant, with more than one in three men (37%) saying social media has a negative impact on how they feel.
Whether related or not, the number of men who are worried about their appearance has risen from 18% in 2009 to 23%, with people aged 18-24 particularly affected (39%).
The report recommends the government, NHS and employers better support men’s mental health.
Mind is calling for the NHS to co-produce mental health services with communities, including men, to make sure that effective support is available locally and meets men’s needs. It should also follow through with it’s pledged to give 900,000 more people access to ‘social prescribing’ by 2023/24.
The charity says this would be a golden opportunity for men to access alternatives to traditional clinical services which support mental health, such as physical exercise, walking groups, gardening groups, or learning activities on prescription.
Mind says men should also continue to be a key target audience for suicide prevention action nationally and locally and the Government should set both national and local targets for suicide reduction.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: ‘It’s really positive that men are more likely to seek help from the NHS and talk to friends and family about their mental health than they were 10 years ago.
‘As a society, we have become more open about mental health in the last decade as campaigns such as Time to Change and Mind’s partnership with the English Football League (EFL) has helped to shift stigmatising attitudes and behaviours, and this may be beginning to filter through.
‘Men still tell us that they struggle to get the help they need for their mental health. Sometimes they don’t know where to go for help or what’s on offer might not be suitable for them.
‘The challenges facing men are likely to be compounded by the pandemic as well as the economic recession, not least because we know that men’s mental health tends to be more affected by unemployment.
‘Our survey suggests that a wider range of options might be needed, such as physical activity and social activities, alongside access to talking therapies and medication.
‘Ultimately, men are still three times as likely to take their own life their own life as women, so there is much more to do to make sure men can ask for help and can get the right support when they need it and before reaching crisis point.
‘We call on the government to respond to this unmet need urgently and for the NHS to be funded to provide a better range of mental health services tailored to the needs of men.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government is working to address mental health inequalities, stigma and discrimination.
‘We remain absolutely committed to supporting good mental health and wellbeing for all.
‘We know men can be reluctant to engage with health and other support services. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, is nothing to be ashamed of and we encourage anyone to speak to their GP or self-refer through the NHS.
‘We are investing more than any other government in improving mental health services. The NHS Long Term Plan will see an additional £2.3billion a year by 2023/24 to deliver the most ambitious major expansion and transformation of mental health services ever across England.’
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