why are men struggling with mental health

There are great campaigns to raise awareness about men’s biological health, but less focus on their mental health. This is unfortunate, as, due to societal pressure and norms, men often struggle with their mental health alone, and find it difficult to reach out for help. Let’s talk about men’s mental health!

What are some of the gender differences in mental health?

There are some important gender differences in mental health disorders – males and females often present differently when they are depressed or anxious, even if the rates of mental health disorders are similar.

However, some serious mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, show no significant gender differences in their lifetime prevalence.

It is also important to point out that we cannot treat men’s and women’s mental health in isolation. The actions and well-being of men have a direct impact on women’s mental health, and the reverse is equally true.

Why do boys act out? Why is my daughter so withdrawn?

The differences show early, as teenage years are marking a divergence in how young men and women experience or express emotional problems. Girls usually report more internalising symptoms, such as turning inward, being sad and anxious, or being shy. On the other hand, boys are more likely to exhibit externalising behaviours, such as disruptive, aggressive, or risk-taking behaviours.

These early differences often extend into adulthood, with women experiencing higher rates of internalising disorders (turning inwards), while men are more prone to externalising disorders (acting out).

The gender gap in depression is particularly interesting. It’s not just about frequency but also the nature of the symptoms. Women often report heightened anxiety, worry, fear, and guilt, influencing their interpretation and coping strategies.
Men, on the other hand, may display signs like irritability when they are depressed – symptoms that can easily be overlooked as these don’t always align with the standard diagnostic criteria for major depression.

Men and suicide risk

Let’s start with a terrifying statistic: males are around three times more likely to die by suicide than females. Looking after men’s mental health is critical, given the stark reality of suicide within the demographic of men aged 20-40. This age group sees the highest rates of suicide, an alarming statistic that often correlates with increased substance use and impulsive behaviours.

These factors, combined with societal pressures and possibly unaddressed mental health issues, create a storm that too many men navigate in isolation.

How can your mental health affect your physical health?

The intersection of substance use and physical health is a special concern for men, particularly in the context of nicotine, alcohol, and recreational drugs. The prevalence of these habits is much higher among men, which not only creates immediate health risks but also has long-term complications.

Frequent substance use makes existing physical health issues worse, such as heart disease and hypertension and often contributes to the onset of depression. The relationship is cyclical: depression further aggravates cardiovascular problems, increasing mortality rates, especially in men.

It’s a sobering reminder of the complex interplay between mental and physical health, and the need for integrated approaches: there is no physical health without mental health, and there is no mental health without physical health.

How do gender roles affect mental health?

The gender differences in mental health can often be traced back to the distinct paths men and women take in their professional lives. Historical reports dating back to the mid-1960s indicate a rise in depressive and anxiety disorders among women, a trend that has been complicated by traditional social roles and the disparities in seeking help.

These mental health differences are, in part, attributed to the different types of jobs typically pursued by each gender. To understand this better, The Sydney Teachers’ Study (Wilhelm et al., 2008), using 30 years of data, helped to clarify this question by talking to a socially homogeneous group, teachers, reducing the effects of social roles and educational statuses.

Interestingly, this study found no significant gender differences in depression rates, suggesting that both men and women are equally prone to depression if all other variables are the same.

However, it did reveal that women tend to exhibit a broader emotional spectrum, derive more pleasure from positive events, and employ a more diverse array of coping mechanisms under stress.

Conversely, men were more inclined to engage in risk-taking behaviours when faced with depression, showing that there is a need to tailor approaches in mental health to support these gender-specific tendencies.

Why don’t men go to therapy?

When it comes to expressing distress, men and women often take different approaches. Men’s distress is often shown through their actions rather than talking about feelings – a pattern that is reflected in the higher rates of behavioural problems, starting in childhood.

This difference is further compounded by men’s generally lower health literacy in emotional areas – in other words, they find it harder to express exactly how they are feeling. Men are less likely to articulate their feelings, seek help, have higher rates of risk-taking behaviours, and tragically, more likely to complete suicide.

Despite these trends, it’s important to recognise that men are often open to discussing their emotions, provided they are in a helping environment. Creating therapy spaces where men feel comfortable and safe to share their feelings can be a powerful step towards breaking down barriers, leading to better mental health outcomes.

While men in therapy initially may find talking about feelings difficult, it is a skill that anyone can learn, especially with the help of a therapist. With the help of a therapist, helping men understand how thoughts and emotions influence each other can dramatically improve their mental health – whether it is anxiety about work, feeling down, or feeling disconnected from others.

Please note that this blog post by Personal Psychology, psychologists in North Sydney is not intended to provide professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, it is important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.