When the Movember Foundation expanded the remit of its UK campaign last year to include men’s mental health issues, it shone a spotlight on an important and often overlooked issue.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in the next year – it can happen to anyone – but men are far less likely to speak out and seek help than women. They are also less likely to be in touch with mental health services. The most shocking fact of all is that men account for three-quarters of suicides.
Stigma plays a key role, compounded by traditional perceptions about how men should behave. The idea that ‘real men don’t cry’ can prevent men from speaking out – only 31% of men would discuss worries with their relatives, compared to 54% of women. And while women are more likely to have a solid network of friends and family to talk to, men are much more likely to rely solely on their partner, if anyone at all.
Added to this, men are much less likely to access health services. Mind research showed that almost a third of men would be embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health problem and less than a quarter of men would visit their GP if they felt down for more than two weeks.
Earlier this year the Men’s Health Forum published a report, How to Make Mental-Health Services Work for Men, that explored some of the reasons for this. Research points to the importance of services that are designed to respond to men’s needs; there are plenty of mental health services aimed specifically and sometimes exclusively at women, but fewer for men.
Yet research shows that services tailored to men’s needs and interests – and in particular those based on sport and exercise, stress management or models that involve men supporting each other – can be very effective in getting men through the door, and on the road to better mental wellbeing.
Frontline staff have a key role to play. Men are far less likely that women to be in touch with the health services generally, so it’s vital that the NHS makes the most of any contact with any part of the system. All frontline staff can be looking out for the signs and symptoms that a man might be struggling and are uniquely placed to help him access the right support.
Stephen Buckley, head of information, Mind