Men's mental health a major concern, survey suggests

By agency reporter
May 13, 2009

The respected mental health charity, Mind, has this week published a disturbing new report presenting evidence that the recession is having a particularly adverse affect on men’s mental health. It dovetails with a week of awareness-raising - and with another high profile campaign on women's mental health which Mind has been working on for many years.

The report, 'Men and mental health: Get it off your chest' indicates that in Britain today 37 per cent of men are feeling worried or low, that middle-aged men are seven times more likely than women to have suicidal thoughts; that only 23 per cent of men would see their GP if they felt low for over a fortnight and that men were only half as likely as women to talk to friends about problems.

The recession looks likely to make the situation much worse, says the mental health charity - with one in seven men developing depression within six months of losing their jobs. Unemployment also increases the risk of suicide with research showing that two-thirds of men under the age of 35 were out of work when they took their own lives.

Mind’s You Gov survey found that the top three issues playing on men's minds are job security, work and money. A small number of men were even experiencing suicidal thoughts. Middle-aged men currently have the highest suicide rate in England and Wales.

Mind’s 'Get it off your chest' campaign aims to get men to recognise the importance of talking about their problems and is calling for a strategy on men's mental health to match the existing women's mental health strategy. Supporters with personal experience include Lord Melvyn Bragg, Alastair Campbell, Stephen Fry, actor Joe McGann and Heart FM's DJ, Matt Wilkinson.

The charity’s new YouGov survey of over 2000 men and women found that:

* 31 per cent of men would feel embarrassed about seeking help for mental distress.
Just 14 per cent of men aged between 35-44 years would see a GP if they felt low, compared to 37 per cent of women.
* Four per cent of young men aged 18-24 years would see a counsellor if they felt low, compared to 13 per cent of young women.
* Only 31 per cent of men would talk to their family about feeling low, compared to nearly 50 per cent of women.
* Almost twice as many men as women get angry when they are worried.
* 10 per cent of men say they find sex the best way to relax, compared to 4 per cent of women.
* Almost twice as many men as women drink alcohol to cope with feeling down.
* Women are nearly five times more likely to get tearful than men
* 45 per cent of men think they can fight off feeling down compared to 36 per cent of women.

Around 2.7 million men in England currently have a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or stress, says Mind. Even though men and women experience mental health problems in roughly equal numbers, men are much less likely to be diagnosed and treated for it. The consequences of suffering in silence can be fatal - 75 per cent of all suicides are men.

Mental health problems impact upon certain groups of men in different ways, says Mind. African-Caribbean men are more likely to receive disproportionately aggressive treatment - they are three times more likely than white men to be formally detained under the Mental Health Act and are more likely to receive invasive medical treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy. Gay and bisexual men are at significantly higher risk too, being over four times more likely than heterosexual men to attempt suicide.

Mind’s Chief Executive, Paul Farmer, commented: "The recession is clearly having a detrimental impact on the nation’s mental health but men in particular are struggling with the emotional impact. Being a breadwinner is something that is still crucial to the male psyche so if a man loses his job, he loses a large part of his identity, putting his mental wellbeing in jeopardy. The problem is that too many men wrongly believe that admitting mental distress makes them weak and this kind of self stigma can cost lives."

He added: "At this time, it's really important that it's as easy as possible for men to find the help they need. The Government has encouraged Primary Care Trusts to use some £8m on mental health and the recession this year, and there's clearly a real need for them to act now to address men's needs."

Farmer said: "When men look for help, they can be put off by health premises that are geared more towards women. GP surgeries offering women’s magazines can feel like a hairdresser's and make men feel uncomfortable. The NHS must become more ‘male-friendly’ offering treatments that appeal to men like exercise on prescription or computerised therapy and advertising their services in places men frequent.

"It is a major health inequality that a mental health strategy exists for women but not men. There is an urgent need for the Government to address this in the New Horizons strategy for mental health. At the heart of this is a need to help men to recognise the importance of talking about their problems and make it easier for them to ask for help," he concluded.

Mind's practical recommendations are that:

* The Government should produce its first men’s mental health strategy.
* The criteria for diagnosing mental health problems should be expanded to include male acting-out behaviour (taking drugs, drinking, becoming aggressive) as well as traditional signs of depression (sleepless nights, crying, feeling low).
* Men should be offered 'male-friendly’ treatments like computerised therapy or exercise.
* Health services should be advertised in places men frequent, such as gyms, pubs or the workplace.
* GP surgeries should be gender neutral: men are often put off by what they consider an overly feminine environment.
* Employers must do more to support their stressed male employees.
* The needs of black and ethnic minority men must be made a priority for Strategic Health Authorities when the Delivering Race Equality strategy ends.
* The relationship between sexuality, gender and mental wellbeing should be a core part of the training given to health and social services professionals.

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