Statistics from 2009 revealed that 12% of men and 19.7% of women suffered from a common mental health illness such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder (Deverill & King, 2009). Additionally, statistics from the NHS Mental Health Services (IAPT) suggest that only 36% of the referrals that they receive are for men. Finally, it has been found that three in four suicides or 76% are by men, which is also the biggest cause of death for men under 35.
So what do all these statistics tell us? On the one hand it could be that men experience less mental health issues as compared to women. However, on the other hand most suicides are committed by men. How does it all fit together?
Well I have a hypothesis about this. To begin with, the aforementioned statistics about the proportion of men and women who suffer from mental health issues refer only to reported cases. Thus, it could be that men and women experience mental health issues equally but women are more likely than men to seek help for their difficulties. If that was the case, why is that? I would blame the stereotypical expectations that are generally placed on men. For instance, it is widely known that men are expected “to be strong”. Illustrating this notion I will share something from my personal experience. When I was 6 years old a friend of mine fell while playing a football match. He hurt his knee badly as he fell and started to cry. I remember that the other children showed no sympathy for him and instead told him “to be a man” and “not to cry”. Although this is just an anecdote, I would assume that, like me, many people may have heard or experienced something along those lines. Then if a 6 year old boy can be expected not to show any weaknesses at such a young age, could that mean that men might be conditioned to believe that since they are small? Could it be that when a man asks for help that could be seen as a sign of weakness which then contradicts the very essence of what a man is expected to be? If that was the case, that could explain why men are less likely to seek help, and as a result of that they can’t handle their difficulties.
There is a movement at the moment called “It’s good to talk” that arose as a result of the increasing number of men committing suicide. This organisation encourages men to talk about their issues and seek professional help if necessary. I applaud such initiatives and I encourage any man who is suffering from a mental health difficulty to talk about it and to seek help. I hope that such discussions could help men to challenge their own preconceptions about themselves so that they realize that they don’t have to be like a superhero. I would argue that we are all vulnerable at times and that mental health difficulties affect us regardless of gender and whether we are prepared to accept it or not.
Deverill and M. King (2009), ‘Common mental disorders’, in Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey
Suicides in the United Kingdom (2011). Office for National Statistics: Statistical Bulletin