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How to support men’s mental health in 2023

One of the contributors to the state of men’s mental health is that we’re less likely to seek help than our female counterparts.

A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mental health is at a problem juncture in the U.K.  Pre-pandemic, the countries faced a mental health crisis, and COVID-19 served to deepen it. Now, the cost-of-living crisis risks tipping the state of mental health in the U.K., as found with poorer people being twice as likely to experience depression as a result of rising costs.

A further factor is that men and women experience mental health differently. While women are more likely to experience mental health conditions, the consequences can be more serious for men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 45.

In terms of social class, those from a lower socio-economic background are more likely to die by suicide.

Some firms are very focused on supporting mental health issues at work and in wider society. One such example is the East London men’s streetwear brand King Apparel. CEO David Graham discusses with Digital Journal what can be done to support men’s mental health in 2023.

Seeing other men speak out

According to Graham, men are less likely to raise mental health issues than women: “One of the contributors to the state of men’s mental health is that we’re less likely to seek help than our female counterparts. The pressure of being masculine encourages men to keep a “stiff upper lip”, even though it’s proven that this can make these problems worse. 29 percent of men who haven’t sought help for their mental health feel “too embarrassed”; a further 20 percent cited the “negative stigma” around it.”

To overcome these barriers, having someone else to look to is important. Here the net can be cast wide, says Graham: “If your role models or the blokes in your life aren’t talking about mental health, it can feel difficult to be the one to bring it up. But more famous faces than ever are opening up about their struggles. Wolverine star and all-round entertainer Hugh Jackman recently spoke about suffering with his mental health during the filming of his new movie, The Son.”

Graham hopes: “The more that prominent figures like Hugh Jackman that speak out about their own mental health conditions, the more it can become a normalised conversation in our everyday lives.”

Famous faces from the spectrum of music, TV, sport and film have spoken out about mental health, helping to tap into different generations of men. For example, Tyrone Mings spoke of struggling with his mental health during the rearranged Euro 2020 tournament, while Jesse Lingard opened up about turning to alcohol to cope during a period on the side-lines.

Roman Kemp has followed up his eye-opening 2021 documentary, Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency, with a book around mental health titled Are You Really OK? to keep these conversations at the forefront of society.

Stormzy challenged stereotypes in rap by speaking openly about his mental health. His 2017 interview was seen as a breakthrough for black men who are underserved by mental health services but overrepresented in psychiatric detentions. His comments were followed by Dave’s seminal album, Psychodrama, which bridges important topics from mental health to identity politics.

Keep an eye on those around you

Graham moves to the importance of really seeking to understand how another person is feeling. He observes: “One of the most powerful tips to come out of Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency was to ask your friends if they’re OK not once, but twice. It’s easy to respond to “are you OK?” with “yeah, fine” – but it’s only when you’re asked again that you might feel comfortable opening up.”

Commenting on the broadcast, Graham recounts: “The Capital DJ spoke to young men around the UK, who recalled devastating stories about theirs and their friends’ struggles with mental health. One group of teenagers lost a friend to suicide when he was only 15.”

This leads to the importance of being prepared to ‘open up’. This itself can be a challenge, says Graham: “In a world where men are still wrongly expected to be stoic and emotionless, taking the first step in opening up can be the biggest challenge. Make sure you’re checking in on your friends regularly. Knowing that you have a listening ear is invaluable when talking about mental health for the first time.”

Support is also available from charities and campaigns. One example, cited by Graham, is Movember, which launched Movember Conversations, an online tool that can help people practise asking their loved ones about their mental health.

Graham comments: “Laid out in a chat format, the tool can help people ask about mental health for the first time or encourage closed-off friends to open up. Meanwhile, the Men’s Health Forum launched its Man MOT campaign in Men’s Health Week 2022, encouraging us to check in on our mental and physical health and to be Men MOT Champions by encouraging our mates to open up.”

Speak to your loved ones

Another important area is family. Graham says: “Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’ll know someone living with a mental health condition. Speaking to the people you feel most comfortable confiding in is the first step for many. If it’s not a conversation you feel comfortable having in your circle of friends, consider talking to family members or partners.”

Seeking medical help when it feels difficult

“There are a lot of factors that contribute to high suicide rates amongst men”, notes Graham, including “The societal expectations of masculinity are a major factor, and so is the fact that fewer men seek help from their doctors for mental health struggles.”

Yet seeking medical help should be encouraged. Only a third of mental health referrals are made for men. According to Graham: “This stems from men holding more negative views of therapy and counselling than women, relationship breakdowns and a higher tendency for men to turn to alcohol.”

As an alternative, Graham recommends: “There are ways to seek help in a more private setting if talking to loved ones or doctors doesn’t feel like a step you can take right now. Most NHS practices in the UK allow people to refer themselves for mental health and psychological therapies online, which removes the step of having to verbally explain your struggles to your GP. This removes the perceived stigma of speaking to a doctor.”

Graham concludes: “In order to properly improve the state of men’s mental health in the UK, we must tackle the problem on two fronts: in the public eye, to spread awareness amongst young men, and in our communities, to encourage our mates to speak up more openly. Encouraging dialogue in black communities is so important, given that black men are much more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and cultural perceptions may increase the stigma around talking to family members. Let’s make 2023 the year we finally improve the state of men’s mental health.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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