Men’s mental health: coming out of the closet?
The excess burden of suicide on men is well-known but other important male mental health problems have received far less and far too little attention. These include body image disorders, post-natal depression and the psychological impact of child sexual abuse. Mental health problems in men who are gay/bisexual, offenders, homeless, military personnel or unemployed have also been overlooked. Illegal drug use and excessive alcohol consumption, both more frequent in men, are inextricably linked to mental health. Common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety continue to be more often diagnosed in women but it is, in fact, highly probable that prevalence is broadly similar in both sexes. Under-diagnosis in men stems from men’s help-seeking behaviours and the way services are delivered as well as diagnostic criteria that do not always reflect male-specific symptoms.
The increasing willingness of male celebrities like Stephen Fry, Rio Ferdinand and Stormzy to open up about their mental health has, together with the involvement of voluntary sector organisations such as Movember and CALM, helped to push the issue onto professional and public agendas. There is also a growing evidence base about how men can be better engaged with mental health services through taking account of gender differences. This means, for example, developing interventions that utilise safe male spaces such as sports stadia or using appropriate language, including reframing help-seeking as a show of strength, as a way to take control and get things back on track.
Policymakers and practitioners must now build on these developments by developing appropriate strategies for prevention and early diagnosis. A failure to do so will leave too many men suffering in silence and, for a significant number, at disproportionate risk of suicide.
What do you think? What more can we, as health professionals, be doing?