Societal expectations and traditional gender roles are affecting how men respond to poor mental wellbeing.
There are expectations about how men should behave and notions around what it is to be “masculine”. Although the stigma is changing, on the whole, many men feel unable to speak openly about their emotions, as they feel society teaches them that opening up about mental health is a sign of weakness. Furthermore, pressure and poor mental health has increased, exasperated by COVID-19, and men now face job losses, money worries, stress, anxiety and depression, as well as poorer physical heath and exhaustion. These complex factors combined have led to a year on year increase in deaths by suicide, of which 75% were among men.
However, we argue that there is hope! Talking is not a sign of weakness - it takes courage! And we are seeking support to spread the message that men do not need to stay ‘strong and silent'; and that it is OK seek support! To spread the message that men are not alone. There are a number of support services available, and campaigns like the men’s health week.
What can also help is if people take control of their mental health right now, by learning recovery techniques and equip themselves with the skills to look after their wellbeing; which our courses, like the five ways to wellbeing and men’s health can do.
Moreover, a big help is a change in mind-set. We offer some reflective questions for those who find it tricky to ask for support, and encourage men to see how other men are talking about their wellbeing challenges, such as by reading Geoff’s story, listening to Roderick’s testimonial or watching this video of men talking about mental health on national news.
The case for change
It is believed that societal expectations and traditional gender roles play an important role in mental health. For men, there are expectations about how they should behave and notions around what it is to be “masculine”. Although the stigma is changing, on the whole, many men feel unable to speak openly about their emotions and may be less able to recognise if they are experiencing mental health challenges.
As a consequence, some men may not seek support and are less likely to access services that are available to help with psychological and physical wellbeing. This, along with the daily pressures that men in Brittan face today, is possibly the reason why suicide remains the biggest cause of death for men between 20-49 years of age. To grasp the significance of this, in 2018, men accounted for 75% of deaths by suicide; and the total number of deaths by suicide is rising year on year.
But there is hope!
What can help?
COVID-19 will almost certainly have impacted these figures.
Research has shown that physically, men's immune systems are affected by COVID-19 more than women. The physical pain, exhaustion and increase in body image concerns are then combined with pressure to ignore medical symptoms because it is 'shameful', 'weak', or because they are told to 'man up' or 'get over themselves'. This will make it harder for men to seek support and recover; and poorer physical health is closely linked to worse mental health.
Here, we cannot control COVID-19, but we can control our response. Those affected can ignore societal expectations or feelings of embarrassment and can choose to get medical support. And those that support them can choose to drive the message that 'speaking up is not weak'.
The second way in which COVID-19 has affected men is that there has been an increase in job loss; increasing pressure and causing additional stress, anxiety and depression, feelings of instability and helplessness, money worries and relationship problems. This is in addition to men feeling isolated, as society tells them that they should stay 'strong and silent' about the way they feel. To add, some men also believe that services are not aimed at men’s wellbeing, creating additional barriers and making it feel like there is nowhere to turn.
As the economy improves over time and the rate of COVID-19 infections decreases, some mental health concerns may reduce. Though we cannot rely on this, what people can rely on are free services like recovery colleges. These colleges teach people that everyone can take control of their mental health right now; regardless of their circumstances.
The number of support services available for men are increasing. Our further help page lists some of those services, and our free wellbeing courses will equip people with the skills to overcome mental health challenges. Thus, mental health recovery is possible!
This year, men’s health forum is supporting men’s health week by drawing on the five ways to wellbeing. They are challenging men to do one activity every day that contributes to positive mental health. Our five ways to wellbeing course may also be helpful to those who want to do this. And any man living in Hertfordshire can join this course.
However, we can all have a role to play. We can end the stigma associated with seeking mental health support. And, like our free men's health course and the various men supporting men groups emerging, we can choose to show our humanity by giving men a safe place to talk. By sincerely saying "it's OK". Because it's not a sign of weakness - talking takes courage! And talking/being heard is what improves people’s wellbeing. See for yourself by reading Geoff’s story, watching Roderick’s testimonial or take a look at this video, where several men express their mental health concerns on national news!
Breaking the silence
The number of men joining our college is increasing; we currently have 413 males enrolled (June 2021) and some, like Geoff, have joined our student development programme and gained employment opportunities from it. But there are many more men that may benefit from our services, and so we need your support to drive our messages:
"Talking is not a sign of weakness - it takes courage"
"Seeking support can feel challenging, but you're not alone".
"You do not need to stay 'strong and silent"
"There is hope; mental health recovery is possible despite your individual circumstances"
“The New Leaf Recovery and Wellbeing College can support you"
Going against societal expectations can feel ‘wrong’ for men, and can often make them feel lost. For those people, we offer a short reflection exercise. Reflection is an effective technique for bringing clarity and reducing mental health symptoms.
Ask yourself these questions; or if you’re supporting someone else, you can ask them:
- How do you feel about seeking support?
- Why do you feel that way?
- What (if anything) is holding you back from changing how you feel?
- Who in your network will offer you support?
Who can you talk to?
Which type of services would you feel most comfortable seeking support from?
- If you could improve one aspect of your mental health, what would it be?
- Do any of the courses supplied by New Leaf Recovery and Wellbeing College support your needs? If not, why not tell them what courses will help?
What men say about mental health recovery
We asked our male course attendees to provide some of their key learnings from our courses. Here's what they said:
I learned about the importance of hope, opportunity and control
Recovery: Acceptance of circumstances and situation is key
- You'll reap the benefits of taking action to preserve or improve your wellbeing
Confidence, and self-esteem and resilience is vital
I gained knowlege, and explored plans and activities to keep well
Recovery should be meaningful and give sense of purpose
The recovery journey is a marathon, not a sprint
Attend some of our courses yourself, and you could learn something invalubale too.
You can hear some of the stories from our male students by going to our what can help page, reading Geoff’s story or watching Roderick’s video.
References and links
What Is Mental Health? | MentalHealth.gov