Men and mental health

White curve
Men and mental health

Growing attention is now being placed on the importance of positive mental health amongst men and boys: eyes have been opened to the need to break down stigmas and change the narrative for males in today’s society.

In this insightful interview, Dr Andrew Reeves, a passionate advocate for male mental health, senior lecturer in counselling and psychotherapy, and former Director of our Colleges and Universities programme, looks at the need to support and build strong male mental health.

Andrew explains the reasons why it can be hard for men to ask for help, how men and boys often wait until reaching ‘crisis point’ before seeking support, and the ways in which mental health support services can be catered towards male audiences to achieve positive results. 

We hope you can find the time to listen to this incredibly insightful interview. If not, we’ve summarised the key parts below for you.

Black man lending against wall typing on mobile phone
02:06 How easy is it for men to ask for help?

Having the confidence to come forward and seek help can be tough for men and boys. Men have a tendency to leave it until they are much further down the line than women before speaking up when they’re struggling; often, it’s not until the point at which they feel they have no other choice than to seek help - by this stage they may feel desperate, suicidal or have turned to drugs, alcohol, violent behaviour or having frequent shifts in their mood. Men may start to notice that their behaviours are different but may not necessarily realise that they feel different: disconnection is quite common when it comes to male mental health, and often men and boys seek help when they feel ‘up against it’ and don’t know what else to do.

Men are more likely to accept mental health support because a particular service or pathway has been recommended to them - men won’t necessarily seek out mental health services themselves, and some service providers do not currently use language that appeals to male audiences. In our society, men aren’t typically brought up to talk about growth, support, caring, talking and sharing: we should be - after all, these are essential elements to building and maintaining positive mental health - but we don’t talk to boys anywhere near enough in this way - or, at least, we haven’t in the past. This is beginning to change.

To give a personal example, a group session for men struggling with anxiety attracted no attendees when it first ran - but when it was repositioned as ‘developing a toolkit for success’, it suddenly became so popular that it had a waiting list! We need to make sure we’re speaking in a language that resonates with men and boys when it comes to mental health. While this is a generalisation and doesn’t apply to all, men are much more likely than women to reach the point of desperation before seeking help - and will be more inclined to use a service that they feel will not judge them.

04:45 How can positive mental health be encouraged for boys and men?

Institutions and organisations can play a vital role in raising awareness of positive mental health amongst male staff - and encouraging these male staff to openly help and support others. Men can be good role models if they are able to talk more freely and openly about mental health in a non-stigmatising way.

Men in institutions, especially in leadership positions, can help establish and promote a culture in which mental health is talked about openly, discussed positively and seen as equivalent in importance to our physical health - rather than presented in a deficit model. For boys, an awareness of good mental health can start in schools - where there are gyms, there should also be wellbeing sessions working in tandem alongside physical fitness.

How we position and situate mental health services is key, especially the language that’s used. ‘Mental health services’ shouldn’t always be about encountering problems and needing support in a crisis: these should focus just as much on coping better or reacting differently to situations and circumstances. Shifting the language makes a big difference: it’s the same fundamental service but suddenly its positioning feels more positive. Men and boys are generally much more likely to adopt a service that asks “do you want to cope differently?” rather than “are there times when you’re not coping?” - as acknowledging a problem can a big leap for many to take.

We need to be using positive language when we discuss mental health and emotions. This should be embedded in the school curriculum, to encourage boys to talk about mental wellbeing in as positive and inclusive a way as possible. Schools and universities have a big role to play in shifting the mental health conversation, as do organisations and institutions.

Mental health isn’t an ‘us and them’ thing: we all have mental health struggles. If we want to see our young people really grow, develop and thrive, we need to focus on mental health above all else.

08:18 What issues are impacting young men today? Have you noticed any trends?

Self-esteem, eating disorders and body image is a growing concern these days: more and more men seem to be struggling with low self-esteem and worried about their body shape, feeling inadequate or questioning their sense of being male. These are issues that women have had to deal with for many years, with lots of women’s lifestyle magazines and other media delivering images of what the ‘perfect women’ should look like; now six-pack muscle culture is being permeated by some publications and mainstream press outlets, and research is indicating that eating disorders and fitness and gym addictions are on the rise amongst men and boys: this is a tricky trap to escape for many males today.

Drug and alcohol use remains a long-standing issue amongst men; males are generally much more likely to internalise difficult feelings than women, and to drink their troubles away or anaesthetise themselves with drugs.

Porn seems to have become a much bigger issue for men in recent years: whether it’s porn addiction or excessive use of erotic materials leading to potential sexual partners becoming objectified, more and more men and boys are frightened of relationships because they don’t know how to behave, based on the modelling they have seen on screens. Porn can create distorted expectations of sexual relationships, can compound feelings of body image inadequacy and can increase concerns around sexual performance: real-world relational experience of sexual intimacy with another can become completely corrupted by these artificial notions.

12:33 How can men and boys best be supported on their mental health journeys?

The first step is to encourage men and boys to come through the door and ask for help - we need to positively reinforce and normalise the idea of seeking help if we are to encourage men to make the necessary changes to improve their situation and enjoyment of life.

Mental health support materials need to created and targeted in a way that appeals to male audiences: clearer communications, straight-to-the-point and less fluff. Deal, very early on, with the notion that there is anything weak about asking for help - it’s actually a statement of strength to notice something about yourself that you want to improve, and then take action to do just that.

Deliver a service that is pragmatic, honest, respectful and collaborative. Mental health support should be a partnership, working towards a clear goal: as mental health trainers and counsellors, we want to put ourselves out of a job! We want those that we help to reach a point where they no longer need our help, but to know that help will always be available if it’s ever required again.

There’s a persistent myth that men are unable to talk about their feelings and emotions. This simply isn’t true.

Boys and men are very good at expressing themselves, if they are given the right opportunity, asked clear questions and invited to be honest and open within a safe space. Four men a day currently die through suicide in the UK; this isn’t OK and we need to change this.

We can make a difference: men and boys need to know that there are alternatives out there and that help and support is available.

Resources

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Advancing the mental health and wellbeing agenda

A guide to help senior leaders put in place measures to ensure that workplaces are mentally healthy

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An emotionally healthy approach to GCSEs - A guide for parents

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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An emotionally healthy approach to GCSEs - A guide for teachers

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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Asking for help

Tips for young people on when it’s time to talk about their mental health, or if they want to help a friend

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Coping with self-harm

This guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for parents and carers

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Coping with self-harm (Welsh)

This Welsh language guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for parents and carers.

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Coronavirus: guide for line managers

A guide to help employers support staff mental health during Covid-19.

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Coronavirus: Quick tips for Line Managers

Tips to help line managers protect their staff’s mental health when working from home

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Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

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Five Ways to Wellbeing posters

Five posters - one for each of the Five Ways to Wellbeing: connect, give, learn, be active, take notice

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Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)

This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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Life after lockdown Wellbeing Action Plan

During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been through enormous change and some of us may experience further uncertainty and change in the coming weeks and months

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Looking after yourself during your GCSEs - A guide for pupils

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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Resource

Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

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Resource

Making the move to university: care leavers

Read how to look after your mental health if you are starting university after being in care.

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Making the move to university: international students

Moving to university is especially tough for those who are coming from another country. Don't forget to make sure you prioritise your mental health, and read how to do so here.

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Making the move to university: LGBTQ+ students

Read our resource on how you can best take care of your mental health when making the transition to university if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Making the move to university: not fitting in

Read our guide on how to protect your wellbeing if you are starting university and feel like you may not fit in in any way.

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Making the move to university: students with adverse childhood experiences

Resource for those starting university who have had adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse.

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Making the move to university: young carers

Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.

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Patent and trade mark professionals

Protecting your mental health and wellbeing: A guide for patent and trade mark professionals

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Perfectionism

Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

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Social media and teenagers

A practical guide for parents and carers of teenagers on using social media

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Students Against Depression posters

Posters to be displayed in Higher and Further Education areas

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Supervision in education

Ten top tips for setting up staff supervision groups in schools

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Supporting a child with anxiety

A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.

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Supporting children returning to school (parents & carers)

Guidance for parents and carers on how to help your child prepare to go back to school

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Supporting children returning to school (teachers)

Guidance for school staff on how to comfort primary school pupils while maintaining social distancing

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Taking care of your mental health for occupational health practitioners

This resource for occupational health practitioners suggests ways for you to take time out of your day to focus on yourself in order to stay healthy and stress-free.

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Talking about suicide

A guide for college staff developed in partnership with the Association of Colleges

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Top Tips For Students

A booklet giving tips on how students can look after their mental health.

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Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

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Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

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Wellbeing Challenge 2021 home pack

Activities for parents and carers to print off and do with their children at home

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Wellbeing Challenge 2021 school pack

Lesson plan and activities based on the five ways to wellbeing

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Work from home wellbeing action plan

This is a personalised, practical tool that we can all use whether or not we have a mental health issue. There are sections for you to complete, including a positive daily plan.

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Resource

Young people who self-harm

Developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, this guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for school staff.

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