Mental health stigma and the pressure on men to ‘man up’

Written by
Evergreen Life

Mental illnesses affect both men and women, but so regularly men are told to just ‘Man Up’. This stigma could be the reason many men don’t talk about their mental health. Recently, Men’s Health Month in June highlighted that men have a higher suicide date rate than women. It’s now more important than ever to raise awareness of preventable mental health problems and encourage early detection and treatment among men and boys.

In this article, we’re looking at how common mental illnesses in men are, what’s preventing men from speaking out, mental health advice for men and advice on how you can support men in speaking more openly about their mental health.

Do men even struggle with their mental health?

Yes, of course they do! In England, around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem and suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 so it's more important than ever to support men in being more open about mental illnesses and encourage them to seek the support they need.

While many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties may be especially relevant to mental health in men.

What makes a man?

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why suicide in men is three times more likely than in women, a study by the Samaritans suggests that societal expectations, stereotyped gender roles and toxic masculinity are having a huge impact on men’s mental health.

The ‘traditional’ expectation of men is to be the breadwinner and to display masculine traits, such as strength, dominance and control. This masculine ideal requires that men should never be depressed, anxious or unable to cope, and if they are, they should never admit it.

According to a 2016 survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 35% of men waited more than 2 years or have never disclosed a mental health problem to a friend or family member. This demonstrates that the very experience of being distressed, or having a mental health problem, could be making men feel embarrassed, that they’ve failed and are unable to speak out.

Men’s mental health matters

Telling men to ‘man up’ isn’t helpful advice and it not only invalidates how they’re feeling, but also blames them for their problems and insinuates that they’re weak for not ‘just getting over it.’

Mental illnesses don’t discriminate and can be experienced by anyone at any time, so it's important for everyone to feel that they’re able to talk about how they feel without fear of judgement or discrimination.

Symptoms of depression in men

Like depression in women, male depression has many of the same symptoms such as feeling sad, feeling tired, difficulty sleeping and little or no pleasure in doing anything. However symptoms of depression in men may also appear in other behaviours, including;

  • Escapist behaviour, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Controlling, violent or abusive behaviour
  • Irritability or inappropriate anger
  • Risky behaviour, such as reckless driving

10 tips for managing your mental health

Knowing how to manage your mental health can be tricky, but these ten tips will help you along your way to becoming mentally healthy.

  1. Catch some more Zzzz - sleep is really important for your physical and mental health as it regulates the chemicals in our brain. For advice on better snoozing, check out our tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
  2. Eat well - the food you put in to your body is just as important for your mental health as it is for your physical health. Deficiencies in key minerals and vitamins can cause you to feel a bit lower than usual. Here’s our article which investigates the latest dietary guidelines.
  3. Avoid alcohol, drugs and smoking - substances like alcohol can decrease the level of serotonin that your body produces. This can negatively affect your mood. Read more on the truth about what alcohol does to your body.
  4. Get outdoors - Vitamin D helps encourage the production of serotonin, which can ‘literally' boost your happy hormones. A lack of vitamin D can make you feel more fatigued. Find out how to get more of this sunshine vitamin.
  5. Manage stress - You can’t always prevent stress but mindfulness is a great way to calm your mind and body. Read our four tips for practising mindfulness in your daily routine.
  6. Be active - Studies have shown that regular exercise can improve mental wellbeing and lower incidences of depression, so it's important to keep moving. Not sure where to start?
  7. Do something you enjoy - Take time for yourself and to do things that you enjoy.  Take up a hobby such as walking, painting, reading or crafting.
  8. Connect with others - People are sociable by nature and keeping in regular contact with friends and family is good for your self esteem. People who have one or more close friends they can rely on in times of trouble are happier. Joining local community groups has been found to improve mental wellbeing - see how you can feel better together.
  9. Be kind - Be kind to receive kindness. People who volunteer or care for others are happier and less depressed. Caring can involve volunteering, but it can be as simple as making eye contact and thanking someone for opening the door for you.
  10. Ask for help - One of the most important ways to keep yourself mentally healthy is to recognise when you're not feeling well and to ask for help. There's no shame in asking for support if you're feeling low or stressed as everyone will feel this way at one point or another.
💡 Remember - if you’re struggling - you can always book an appointment with your GP and get the help you need.

How you can help support men

If you think your friend, partner, relative or colleague is going through a hard time it can be difficult to know how to best support them. Not all men feel comfortable reaching out for help so we’ve put together some tips to help you get the ball rolling.

Ask

Don’t be afraid to ask him how he’s doing. If you’ve noticed a change in behaviour, then this could be a good place to start. For example, “You seem a bit stressed, is everything ok?” He may give a blanket response that everything is fine. However, if you think there could be something else going on try asking a follow up question about how he’s getting on at home or work.

Listen

Show that you’re listening to what he has to say by not interrupting and telling him that you’re here for him. He needs to know you aren’t judging him and are taking what he has to say seriously. His feelings could be more deep-rooted so try not to analyse and problem-solve his issues for him as this can belittle his feelings.

Encourage action

Try and explore with him some of the options he has by encouraging him to think about what used to make him happy and if he can do more of that. Talking through your problems can be like having a weight lifted off your shoulders, so encourage him to also speak to his partner or family. If you think he needs more support, encourage him to speak with his GP.

Check in

Remind yourself to check in and see how he’s been getting on. Make plans for the future, catch up and socialise. When you do check in with him, make sure he knows you’re there when he needs you. Face-to-face contact is just as important as sending a message.


For more help and advice you can make an appointment with your GP who will be able to provide you with some options and support. There are also some incredible mental health helplines including CALM, Samaritans, and Men’s Health Forum.

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