What haunts you when you hear about someone close committing suicide? Is it the manner: the bottle of pills, the noose, a fall? For me, it is the depths of the pain, the darkness and inner fragility they felt. When our mental health is affected, it is an insidious poison that can hide behind a smile. And when it comes to its most severe conclusion, the statistics show that it’s men who fall victim most.
Why are men affected more?
Technically, men aren’t affected more by mental health issues and there is no significant difference between the genders. So, why the shocking difference in mortality rates? Whilst the issues may be the same, how they manifest themselves is different.
Societal differences are a contributing factor in how men differ when dealing with their issues. The mantra of “Man up” has been hotly contested over the last decade, which has seen a rise in men seeking help. However, there is still an indoctrinated sense that seeking help is a show of weakness when society dictates that men should be self-reliant and stoic. Traditionally, this has repressed men from seeking or even admitting to needing help.
The perception of male strength is tied to the notion that we don’t show emotion. In the recent past, this cultural stigma has created a barrier in seeking help. Over the last couple decades, there has been a cultural shift. Willingness to access services has risen, “17 per cent of men said they would be likely to go to a counsellor or therapist to talk about their feelings if they were feeling worried or low for two weeks or more, as opposed to 22 per cent of women.” . Taken in 2019, this statistic shows a definite improvement from a decade ago that showed men were only half as likely to seek counselling or therapy. With campaigns and targeted awareness groups like ‘In your corner’ and ‘Ask Twice’, this suggests that there is more awareness and support for men to seek assistance. Yet, the percentage of male suicide has remained marginally the same.
A common notion of masculinity is economic stability, the ability to provide for their family. Is a man really a man if he can’t take care of his family? This is a strongly felt emotion within men and the inability to perform what’s perceived as a masculine trait, can create a sense of failure and shame. The Samaritans charity group found that “deprivation, financial insecurity and unmanageable debt are strongly associated with an increased risk of suicide in men.” Corroborating evidence of financial insecurity linked to an increase in suicide comes from The World Economic Forum, marked a 12% increase of suicide a year after the economic crash of 2008.
Again, this idea of the male role in society is a provocative issue, specially with the male paradigm shift in the last few decades. Many men are still coming to terms with this new cultural shift, you only need to look at any online debate about whether men should pay for the first date and the heated vitriol that follows; where do men now stand, what is their role and are they facing an identity crisis? Whilst signs of male mental health awareness are starting to increase, the tropes of traditional masculinity is definitely a reason men may avoid seeking help.
Men are more likely than women to use or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms when dealing with mental health issues. From drinking alcohol to taking recreational drugs, men are statistically more likely to self-medicate using substances to deal with issues such as anxiety or feeling low. Along with a self-destructive method, substances can also compound anxieties and emotional trauma, leading to suicidal tendencies. Further to this study, we can’t ignore that whilst statistics of suicide are based solely on singular acts of attempts to end their life, should we also be looking at deaths caused through alcoholism or substance overdose?
Aggression in men is a lot more common when issues with stress are involved. Without healthy coping mechanisms to relieve mental health issues, aggression can sometimes lead to violence. (I must note that aggression is very different to violence. A person can be aggressive by nature, but that doesn’t make them violent). Violence is not acceptable in our society, yet I believe that care must be taken about criminalising acts of violence, rather than treating causes behind certain acts. There is a fine-line between intended violence and moments of anger, underlined by stress, which lead to violence. I believe that a more comprehensive mental health awareness program would alleviate many cases where men are criminalised, rather than treated, for underlying issues.
Impact of Social Media
Social Media has a massive influence within our society. There is now more information than ever, streamed direct through our phones for direct consumption. Great, right? The new age of online presence has the absurd ability to make both positive and negative effects on mental health for both genders. Many helpful platforms that truly help connect people and are accessible at the end of our fingertips, such as manhealth and other similar platforms, have made a huge impact for men who may want to speak anonymously and privately about their mental health. The statistics demonstrate that more men are utilising these platforms, and using social media to highlight male mental health issues.
David Napthine wrote 6 original screenplays about the symptoms of depression and how they affect the everyday aspects of “Geoff’s” life. Online awareness has been a positive influence for men seeking help online.
On the flip side, there are adverse effects to an online media presence; connection may be the mantra, but it’s anger and controversy that sells.
Frances Haugen, former employee of Facebook’s civic misinformation team, has released tens of thousands of documents, showing how Facebook’s algorithm will push a negative format on its readers, and keep us reading the hateful, divisive and polarising content; but, why? Because anger and hate definitely sells. It is an unfortunate side to an algorithm that amplifies the worst of human nature into our daily feed.
“There were conflicts of interests of what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook.”
More often than not, young men are also dealing with the negative aspects of a life within social media. These platforms are easy to present a “best life” façade to the world. Whilst this may be useful or inspiring to some, to others it can lead to a negative comparative situation, from body image to fiscal insecurities. These feeds are constant, which subversively makes us consume more. From increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, and even decreased empathy, current research indicates that young adults - the most active social media users - are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues.
With social media being so pivotal within our society, it is implausible to cut off completely from negative cycles, yet self-regulation is key. It is strange to conceive, but social media is very addictive platform and there has to be cut off points, to disengage from a virtual presence.
Statistics show that a male mental health epidemic is a global issue, with cases of suicide almost 3x that of women in many countries. I’ve outlined several reasons why men are affected more, yet the complex nature of mental health requires more than just an article; there is no quick fix to a state of mind. We need to speak about this more, and not just online. There needs to be an ingrained narrative that accepting feelings of anxiety or stress and talking about these issues must be normalised, not kept hidden behind a smile or stiff upper lip.
So, what can we do?
The most important part of mental health is to practise self-care. This seems an obvious statement, yet it is surprising how often we neglect to take care of ourselves. There are simple methods, such as diet and exercise, or simply taking time to enjoy a hobby. Yet we can also create boundaries in our lives, and feel okay to say no to a situation we are not comfortable with. Being a role model for your own mental health is key to setting an example for helping others and making mental health a part of our everyday lives.