Why do men find it difficult to seek help for their mental health?
Data has shown that while more and more men are seeking support for their mental health, they are doing so at much lower rates than women.
Mental health has come into sharp focus in Australia over recent years, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, with anxiety, depression, and social isolation under the spotlight.
It is a melancholy and alarming fact that men are overrepresented in the rates of suicide, with more than three-quarters of deaths by suicide in Australia being men.
Concerningly, one study found that male leaders who sought help in the workplace were evaluated to be less competent than male leaders who do not seek help. The same was not found for female leaders.
Lifeline’s Research and Engagement Manager Dr Tara Hunt says that while there is evidence to suggest that the reported help-seeking gap between men and women is narrowing, the relationship between gender and help-seeking for mental health issues and suicidality “is more complex than meets the eye.”
According to Dr Hunt, a wide range of factors can influence men’s decisions to seek help, including beliefs about masculine ideals, as well as structural barriers such as finances, knowledge and availability of appropriate services.
“Men are also more likely to seek help if they are from a sexual orientation minority, employed, older, and/or separated, widowed, divorced. However, these factors are significantly influenced by socio-economic status and ethnicity,” she explains.
Society and stereotypes
The media and popular culture have done a brilliant job in making men believe, albeit subconsciously, that for men, vulnerability is synonymous with weakness and failure.
From the moment we are born, regardless of gender, we are exposed to stereotypes, such as a baby girl wrapped in a pink blanket instead of blue, or gifting a toy car instead of a doll for the boys. Whether we like to admit it or not, stereotypes are embedded into our culture - though we are becoming more aware of them.
Thankfully, tired adages like ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘a man never backs down from a fight’ are becoming things of the past – though arguably those intended messages are still promoted subtly.
“It is important to note that men are not a homogenous and singular category. There are a wide range of factors that influence a man’s decision to seek help, including beliefs about help-seeking. For example, endorsement of masculine ideals such as stoicism is associated with lower intention to seek help,” explains Dr Hunt.
While the likes of the rugged and masculine 'Marlboro Man' are becoming heroes of a bygone era, we can see society turning a corner and becoming more cognisant of subliminal messaging and embracing a variety of cultures, opinions, beliefs and values.