Numerous researchers have recently stated that there is a silent crisis in men’s mental health. This is based on powerful evidence that men have high rates of various mental health issues.

These include elevated rates of suicide and substance abuse as well as low rates of mental health service use. Sadly, male gender often intersects with other variables to produce even higher rates in some sub-groups.

Suicide

Men die by suicide in numbers almost four times that of women. Although young men from 20-30 die in alarming numbers, men from 40-60 kill themselves most often.

If we look at how both men and women deal with the daily stresses of life we may find some answers as to why men’s suicide rates are higher. Women tend to have better overall coping strategies when dealing with stress, as they will talk about their feelings more often with friends and family and will seek professional help more readily.

In contrast, men tend to ignore their stress entirely or deal with it by engaging in self-destructive actions such as abusing drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, or myriad other risk-taking behaviours. They may suppress their feelings until they erupt as irritability, anger or hostility or they may simply isolate themselves by avoiding social contacts altogether.

Very high rates have been observed in veterans, young American Indians and gay men. A common factor among these groups may be perceived (or real) rejection from mainstream society, leading to strong feelings of alienation and isolation.

Mental Health Service Utilization

Evidence suggests that men are significantly less likely to use mental health services in response to a mental health issue in comparison with women. This is especially so for Black, Latino, and Asian men, who have much lower utilization rates than white men, as well as women in general.

In other words, men who are suicidal or have substance abuse problems are much more likely to suffer in silence, especially minority men.

This is often attributed to stubbornness in men, rooted in traditional notions of masculinity that emphasize “true grit” doggedness. However, another explanation is that formal mental health services are not finely attuned to men’s needs. These services tend to emphasize medication  or talk-therapy. But some research suggests that men prefer action over words in the face of stressful situations.

This may explain the growing popularity of practical interventions such as “men’s sheds.” These are physical spaces where isolated and lonely men can gather together for practical activities such as woodwork and repairs, while receiving valuable peer-support in the process.   

Solutions

What can be done to improve men’s mental health?

-Men’s mental health should be recognized as a social issue as much as a health issue, with attention paid to issues such as unemployment and familial disruption.

-There should be more choice in the formal mental health system, with more male-tailored options that respond to men’s unique needs.

-Health departments at the various levels of government should create specific strategies to improve men’s mental health, with the setting of targets and goals based on recent research.

This may go some way to reducing the silent crisis of men’s mental health.

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