For all that we have moved on, there is still a stigma around talking about mental health. And men, in particular, seem to struggle with opening up and having a conversation. Why is that? What makes men more guarded when it comes to mental health?
Talk to me like a human.
According to Mental Health America, one of the problems is that awareness strategies aren’t targeted towards men. They tend to respond better to humour and a casual tone, which many campaigns just don’t use.
Man Therapy uses straight-talking and sharp content to engage men of all ages to think about their mental health. Using the kind of language and humour you’d see in a bar, it’s edgy and conversational and inspires an openness about mental health that a more serious or medical approach might not achieve,
The LADBible Group launched a three-month social content campaign entitled UOKM8?. It was inspired by the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of British men under 45, and aimed to raise awareness of just how important speaking about mental health is. The tone was fun, casual, and delivered in a way that suggested they really knew their audience.
But we need to be careful with humour. “As someone who has struggled with my mental health for a decade, I have always used humour to mask and downplay the seriousness of my condition. But over the past year, I have made a concerted effort to speak to my male friends about not just my issues, but theirs. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience, that feeling like you truly know someone, and has brought us closer,” says Joshua Ryan, Project Manager and Grants Fundraiser.
Struggling to make ends meet.
We’re used to hearing about the gender pay gap for women, but it turns out men are also on the back foot when it comes to mental health.
Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK shows that men living with depression or anxiety earn 26% less, and those who have panic attacks earn 42% less than men who don’t have these conditions. Surprisingly, they found no significant difference for women. This is partly because of taking time off for appointments and treatment, but also potential discrimination in the workplace – despite this being illegal.
Why do men care about this so much? Apart from needing to pay the bills and keep a roof over their head, there’s still the idea that men need to earn more and be the breadwinner. Anything that might challenge this can add to the stress of living with a mental illness. No one wants to say they can’t get the round in, or pay for a dinner out with their partner.
You’re not my type.
Mental health matters when it comes to sex. It might seem pretty unfair, but research indicates that people with a mental illness face stigma and discrimination when it comes to dating – whether that’s someone for the night or a long term partner. If being labelled and identified as having a mental illness makes a man less likely to either get laid or find love, no wonder they don’t want to speak up about it.
Fancy a drink, mate? Just us.
According to the UK’s Time To Change, 63% of men said they would be most comfortable talking about their mental health over a drink. So, if someone is inviting you out one on one, it might be because they need to talk. Crowded places and busy bars just aren’t the right place for that. Men might be used to hanging out in big groups and having lots of banter, but that’s just not conducive to having meaningful chats and opening up around mental health.
Feelings are for females
That’s clearly not true, but it’s a message that males receive from childhood. When a boy falls over and cries he is told to be a ‘strong soldier’ and if a grown man shows any emotion he is pushed to ‘man up.’ It’s part of our culture that feelings are something girly, and shouldn’t be shown by men. That idea is so ingrained in our culture and needs to change before men will be comfortable opening up. That will only happen as we start to have more conversations.
Take off your gloves.
The American Psychological Association has a podcast focused solely on how masculinity can be a burden on mental health. Having rules and ideas of what being a man is can actually stop men from opening up and having conversations that matter. Phrases such as ‘real men’ might be intended to be inspiring, but can actually limit the chat that needs to happen. Men struggle with knowing where to seek help and don’t want to appear weak by asking for it. Maybe it’s time to redefine what being a real man is, put the jokes aside, and open up.
Rob Walters is a photographer who has seen the benefits of speaking up – but hasn’t always found it easy. “While there are no doubt many reasons why individual men don’t feel comfortable to talk about the things they are struggling with, from my own perspective, and from observing male friends and contacts who have struggled with transparency, two common and closely linked themes that are often present are perhaps fear and shame. Fear that what we share won’t be treated appropriately and that we’ll be judged & rejected and shame that we don’t match up to the myriad of cultural and societal expectations of what it is to be a successful, responsible male. It takes courage, considered a risk and intentional effort to overcome the deep-rooted foes of fear and shame and in turn become freer, more honest, healthy and whole individuals. It’s useful to consider that those who react unhelpfully to vulnerable disclosures of struggle are perhaps themselves struggling with their own relationships to fear and shame.”
With anything from 20-25% of us having a mental health issue every year, it’s crucial we get talking about it. Men seem to be on the back foot when it comes to conversations about mental health. The more we do to normalize it, the better.