Why do men find it difficult to seek help for their mental health?

Man emotional

Tom Hounslow

Posted December 10, 2021


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.

man mental health

Mental health has come into sharp focus in Australia over recent years. Image: Getty.


Accessing support

Over the past few decades, the state of Victoria’s mental health system declined into disarray, resulting in the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The Commission ultimately identified massive gaps in accessibility, inequalities and need for reform. 

When the final report was tabled, the Royal Commission made 65 recommendations to improve the mental health system, and billions have since been allocated by State Government to funding the revitalised system. While the added support will go a long way to helping Victorians, it seems that men have already begun to shift the trend. 

While more men across Victoria embrace their emotions and seek mental health support, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Dr Hunt says the increase in the proportion of men seeking help can be partly attributed to increased government funding to male mental health initiatives. 

“Despite the increases in help-seeking, we know men are more likely to attend relatively few support sessions and prematurely discontinue treatment. This suggests the need to enhance service offerings to men who are unwell, plus additional focus on help-giving by those in a position to reach out and provide service,” she explains.

Standing together

If one thing has become clear through the research, the Royal Commission, and the tragedy of the suicide statistics, is that the best thing anyone can do is reach out, whether it be to a mental health professional or a colleague during times of distress. 

One study found that 96 per cent of males had been encouraged by others to seek help from a mental-health professional, and 37 per cent indicated that without this influence they may not have sought help at all.

Ultimately however, the wider community can be part of the solution, “there is a role for upskilling others to be able to respond compassionately and appropriately to men experiencing distress,” says Dr Hunt.

With unity comes progress, and we all need to play our part in looking out for each other. 

 


 

If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed or in need of support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 at any time.


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