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Men’s mental health: It’s manly to be mentally okay

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“Man up!” is a phrase most men are familiar with. It is used to establish stereotyped masculine traits like being strong, concealing emotions and handling things alone. For a long time, the impact of such beliefs was rarely discussed. Societal expectations, gender norms and lack of awareness have added to the limited discussion on this topic. This November, men’s health month, is an apt time to open up the conversation about men’s mental health and how to take care of it. 

Men’s mental health in numbers

An estimated 12.5% of men in the UK suffer from mental health issues [1]. In the US, almost 40% of those treated for mental health conditions are men, with an 11-years delay between experiencing symptoms and seeking treatment [2]. With under 40% of mental health referrals being men [1], it is possible that the true number of men who need help are under-represented. The male mental health stigma is a concern because their symptoms and coping strategies are different to women. Men are three times more likely than women to use alcohol and drugs to cope with their struggles [1] starting a cycle which feeds further into mental health problems. These serious male mental health statistics highlight the need to step up the resources invested in this area to resolve these issues in a safe and healthy manner. 

Disarming the stigma

Removing the stigma around men’s mental health is an important step in resolving issues, facilitating interventions, and increasing male participation [8]. Increasing awareness from a young age, providing good role models, peer support and re-framing mental health strategies are some ways of disarming the stigma. Open communication by famous sportsmen and celebrities has encouraged the conversation around men’s mental health. A community level effort improves the chances of reaching more men who need help. 

A man’s guide to improving well-being

Evidence shows that addressing men’s mental well-being in a way that conforms to their mindset reaps benefits:

  • Exclusively for men: Being in a male-only environment and use of male-friendly language (example using well-being instead of mental health) are vital in delivering therapy, while respecting a man’s masculinity standards. The Atlas Men’s Well-being program, provided male-only counselling and complementary therapies in an environment suited to men, showed promising results with almost 80% of the attendees reported feeling better after sessions [3].
  • Team spirit: Men respond better in groups [4]. Interventions delivered in groups are successfully taken on board because this allows men to bond, build a support network, and feel a sense of solidarity. This also works to mitigate the stigma around mental health.
  • Action-focused: Men prefer action-oriented therapies over talk therapies. Over 400 men surveyed chose eating healthy, keeping busy and exercising as the top 3 strategies to maintain good mental health [5]. Data collected from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA highlights that combining activity with therapy allows for better engagement. A focus on the activity, such as playing team sports, allows the creation of a safe space that eases the conversation around mental health [6].
  • Suitable settings: A review of 9 studies listed sports clubs, workplace, and universities as suitable spaces to provide interventions that work best for a man’s lifestyle [7]. 

The active way to mental fitness

A review of 13 studies reported that physical activity related interventions like walking, football, golf, gym, and others, had positive benefits on mental health symptoms among participants [9].

In Ireland, “Back of the Net,” is a 10-week programme which involves playing football (twice a week) and counselling in the form of themed group discussion, reported lower depressive scores and improvement in self-worth and social support [10].

Low intensity exercises like yoga were also shown to have benefits. An hour of yoga weekly along with other physical activity led to reduction in depression, anxiety, and stress among men [11].

For men who are less inclined towards sports, other interventions focusing on creative outlets can help. Man About Town [12], launched in 2019 in Leeds uses music, photography, and art to bring men together and offer peer support. The project uses fun activities as a platform to offer open communication around mental health.

“Men in Sheds” [13] is a project aimed at older men and provides a safe space for older men to form friendships, pursue hobbies like woodwork, electronics, gardening and learn new skills. It serves to provide resources for mental health improvement 

Reaching out

There are many organizations that are working towards men’s mental wellbeing and welcoming all men who require support:

  • Manup? is a project that challenges the phrase “man up” and is about men supporting men. There are multiple events and links to mental health resources. More about them here https://www.manup.how/
  • The CALM zone caters to provide support to those who are struggling. Their helpline and webchat are open 365 days a year for those who need help https://www.thecalmzone.net/ 
  • HeadsUpGuys is a platform for men aiming to provide awareness, reduce stigma and provide self-management strategies for men https://headsupguys.org/
  • Man Therapy involves humour to tackle serious issues and provide support for men’s mental wellbeing https://mantherapy.org/ 

Taking care of your mental health and reaching out when you need support is a part of being an all-rounded man. Your mental fitness is equally as important as your physical fitness. 

References

  1. Men's Health Forum (2014). Key data: mental health
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (2022). Mental health By the Numbers.
  3. Cheshire, A. et al. (2016). How do we improve men’s mental health via primary care? An evaluation of the Atlas Men’s Well-being Pilot Programme for stressed/distressed men. BMC Family Practice, 17(1). 
  4. McGrane, A. et al. (2020). "All My Problems Go Away for 90 Minutes": How Football and Psychotherapy Improves Young Men's Mental Health. American journal of men's health14(5), 1557988320959992.
  5. Proudfoot, J. et al. (2015). Positive strategies men regularly use to prevent and manage depression: a national survey of Australian men. BMC public health15, 1135.
  6. Robertson, S. et al. (2016). Successful mental health promotion with men: the evidence from ‘tacit knowledge’ Health Promotion International, 33(2)
  7. Drew, R. J. et al. (2020). Impact of male-only lifestyle interventions on men's mental health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity21(7), e13014.
  8. McKenzie, S. K. et al. (2022). Men's Experiences of Mental Illness Stigma Across the Lifespan: A Scoping Review. American journal of men's health16(1), 15579883221074789.
  9. Mason, O. J., & Holt, R. (2012). Mental health and physical activity interventions: a review of the qualitative literature. Journal of mental health (Abingdon, England)21(3), 274–284.
  10. McArdle, S. et al. (2012). A qualitative exploration of men’s experiences of an integrated exercise/CBT mental health promotion programme. International Journal of Men's Health, 11(3), 240–257.
  11. Rocha, K. K. et al. (2012). Improvement in physiological and psychological parameters after 6 months of yoga practice. Consciousness and cognition21(2), 843–850.
  12. Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance. (n.d.). ‘It’s great to listen’: How Man About Town is using creativity to support men’s mental health in Leeds, West Yorkshire  | CHWA.
  13. UK Mens Sheds Association. (2018). What is a Men’s Shed? - UK Mens Sheds Association.
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