Content note: violence, substance abuse
Written by Sophie Buck.
It’s a fact that men often feel less able to access mental health support, especially varying in accordance with the oppressions they experience. While attitudes towards gender and gender roles are changing, restricting ideas about masculinity prevent many men from feeling comfortable talking about their mental health and when they are struggling, leaving them to suffer in silence. What can be done?
While it’s important to normalise men expressing sadness (crying is cathartic), it should be recognised that mental health problems can often manifest themselves differently in relation to societal gender expectations. Research has found that, on average, women and non-binary people are more likely to develop internally-directed disorders, like anxiety and depression, whereas men are more likely to develop externally-directed disorders, such as aggression- and substance-abuse-related disorders (which may co-exist with depression).
Anger – while at times justified and important – can both contribute to and be a symptom of mental health problems. To help manage and diffuse anger, activities like mindfulness, sport and the arts can be useful; this self-help booklet offers further anger-management guidance.
Awareness is also needed of the effect of alcohol and drugs on mental health, and how substance use can mask underlying mental health problems, acting as a (counterproductive) means of self-medication. For addressing substance dependence, see this list of support services.
For more general mental health support, if speaking about mental health feels difficult, men may prefer some services to others. While some may feel comfortable talking to counsellor (men make up 1/3 of University Counselling Service users), others may find the more general remit of a college nurse (also trained in mental health) or the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service more accessible. Indeed, last year those using SUAS who disclosed as male were most likely to use it for issues relating to mental health than people of other genders. Additionally, anonymous listening services, like Nightline, Samaritans or CALM, may feel easier than a face-to-face discussion.
As well as feeling more comfortable accessing support, men need to be equipped with the tools to support each other (and themselves). Recommended resources for mental health literacy include Mind, this guide on how to support friends, and this blog post on self-care.
Increasingly, men are finding their voices to discuss their mental health – speaking out about difficult father-son relationships, experiences of suicidal ideation and discrimination, calling for change and dismantling toxic masculinity. These are all great steps towards breaking down the barriers to men discussing mental health and accessing support they deserve.