Today is World Mental Health Day (Wednesday 10th October 2018) and to mark the day we've produced a list of 10 surprising facts about men and boys' mental health, some of which you may not know.
If you share our commitment to creating a healthier future for men and boys then we invite you to share this information with others. We'd also love to hear from you about any news, research, information, events or programs focused on men’s mental health that you think we should be promoting.
In the meantime, here's our list of 10 surprising facts about men's mental health in Australia:
1. Most male suicide is not linked to depression
When we talk about men's mental health, lots of people think about the fact that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women. This is true. Suicide kills an average of eight people a day in Australia, six men and two women.
However, the majority of male suicides are not primarily linked to a mental health diagnosis, according to the Queensland Suicide Register. With depression, for example, while nearly half of female suicides (46.5%) are linked to unipolar depression, fewer than a third of male suicides (32.8%) are associated with unipolar depression.
Depression is still a significant factor in the high male suicide rates, but not in the majority of cases. Male suicides are more commonly linked to a range of distressing life events such as relationship separation (28.3%); financial problems (17%); relationship conflict (15.7%); bereavement (12.3%); recent or pending unemployment (10.5%); familial conflict (9.5%) and pending legal matters (9.0%).
2. Boys have more mental health issues than girls
Boys (age 4-17) are more likely than girls to have experienced mental disorders in the past 12 months according to the Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. The gap is larger for children age 4-11 (16.5% of boys and 10.6% of girls) than for children age 12-17 (15.9% of boys and 12.8% of girls).
It is often said that boys are more likely to "act out" and externalise problems while girls are more likely to "act in" and internalise problems. This pattern is reflected in mental health disorders in children:
- Boys account for 72.1% of children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Boys account for 62.7% of children with Conduct Disorders
- Girls account for around 75% of reported self harm
- Girls account or around 70% of reported suicidal thinking
Boys also account for 52.5% of anxiety disorders and 45.4% of major depressive orders. This changes in late teens and adulthood with women reporting significantly more depression and anxiety than men.
3. Men aren't as bad at getting help as we think
The public story about men's mental health is that men "bottle up" their emotions and need to "open up" more and get help.
There may be some truth in this. We know that girls are up to twice as likely to access formal support with emotional and behavioural problems through health services, schools, online support and telephone helplines.
Girls are also more likely to access informal support though the gap is smaller, with over half of boys and nearly three quarters of girls getting help from parents, friends, teachers etc. Overall, girls are around 80% more likely to access formal support than boys and 40% more likely to access informal support.
A similar pattern is seen in adulthood with women with mental health disorders being around 50% more likely access services than men. However some statistics from the Australia Bureau of Statistics challenge the simplistic binary story about gender and mental health, for example:
- The proportion of men with mental health disorders (13.1%) who visit a psychologist is almost identical to the proportion of women with mental health disorders who visit a psychologist (13.2%)
- The proportion of women in the overall population who have a mental disorder but don't access any help (13.2%) is slightly higher than the proportion of men in the overall population who have a mental disorder but don't access any help (12.8%)
- The proportion of women with a mental health disorder who say they aren't getting the help they need (28.9%) is slightly higher than in men with mental health disorders (25.2%)
These statistics suggest that we need a more open and inclusive public discussion about men's and women's mental health that goes beyond lazy gender stereotypes and places more focus on ensuring our response are gender inclusive and provide a balance of male-friendly and female-friendly responses.
4. Men have lots of coping strategies that don't involve talking
Men may be less likely to access talking therapies, however research in Australia has found that men with experience of depression and suicide have a range of prevention strategies to "keep myself feeling ok or on an even keel from day to day". The top 10 are:
- Eating healthily (54.2% do this regularly)
- Keep myself busy (50.1%)
- Exercise (44.9%)
- Use humour to reframe my thoughts/feelings (41.1%)
- Do something to help another person (35.7%)
- Spend time with a pet (34.8%)
- Accept my sad feelings/ 'this will pass too' (32.7%)
- Achieve something (big or small) (31%)
- Hang out with people who are positive (30.8 %)
- Distract myself from negative thoughts/feelings (30.5%)
5. Men have less depression and anxiety but more drink and drug disorders
According to the last National Survey of mental health and wellbeing:
- Women are more likely to have experienced mental disorders in the 12 months (22.3% compared to 17.6% for men)
- Women are more likely to have experienced anxiety disorders in the past 12 months (17.9% compared with 10.8% for men)
- Women are more likely to have experienced affective disorders like depression in the past 12 months (7.1% compared with 5.3% for men)
- Men are more than twice as likely as women to have experienced substance use disorders (7.0% compared with 3.3%)
- Men are more likely to experience mental disorders in all three categories (e.g. anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse) than women (0.8% compared with 0.6%)
6. Mental health is having a big impact on men’s physical health
Mental health issues have a greater impact on men's physical health overall. The majority of the burden of disease linked to mental health disorders is experienced by men (52.3%).
In terms of life expectancy, research in Western Australia found that the gap in men with mental disorders (compared to the rest of the male population) was around 16 years. The gap between women with mental disorders (compared to the rest of the female population) was 12 years.
7. Gambling is linked to mental health issues
According to Mental Health First Aid Australia, "gambling problems are mental health problems". In addition to this, people with gambling problems are likely to have other common mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and substance use problems.
In terms of sex/gender differences, the 2017 HILDA report found that:
- Around 1.4 million Australians report at least one harmful consequence as a result of their gambling (10.3% of men and 5.6% of women)
- Around 200,000 Australians are considered to be problem gamblers (1.5% of men and 0.8% of women)
8. Men get eating disorders too
According to a recent Australian report on women's mental health, eating disorders of all kinds predominantly affect women. However, the report makes the following point:
"Men also suffer from eating disorders. Large population studies suggest that up to a quarter of people suffering withanorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are male, and almost an equal number of males and females suffer with binge eating disorder. We also know that under-diagnosis and cultural stigma mean that the actual proportion of males with eating disorders could be higher."
This is a useful reminder that we need to look beyond gender stereotypes when talking about men's and women's mental health.
9. Dads experience postnatal depression too
Around one in 10 new dads get postnatal depression. Unlike new mums, dads don’t benefit from universal screening. When in comes to the mental health of parents, we don’t provide the same level of proactive care to dads, as we do mums.
This missed opportunity to engage men in conversations about their mental wellbeing, has become a key issue for some mental health advocates in recent years. For example, at least one international expert on Paternal Mental Health, Mark Williams, has called for all new dads to be screened and set up the #HowAreYouDad campaign.
According to Associate Professor Richard Fletcher, at the University of Newcastle, dads' mental health impacts children and mums too. Lack of partner support is a risk factor for maternal depression and research shows that a child of a depressed father has three times the rate of behaviour problems and twice the chance of a psychiatric diagnosis at seven years of age.
10. Gender blind mental health services may struggle to help men (and women)
Like women, most men with mental health issues are offered "gender neutral" services. While this may seem fair and equal, gender neutral services can fail to take into account the different needs of men and women. As Rosemary Calder AM, Director of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration has argued:
"Everyone knows that there are differences between women and men. The marketing and retailing industries spend many millions of dollars on market research to understand the needs and preferences of men and women so that they can gender-target their messages to both adults and children. They wouldn’t do it if the evidence told them that gender-blind strategies would work just as well.
"In spite of all of this evidence about the importance of gender, mental health policy in Australia is gender-blind. If gender matters to marketeers, helping them to be more effective and profitable, surely it should also matter to governments who have a responsibility for the policies which support the health and wellbeing of the population?"
While Calder was arguing specifically for gender sensitive approaches to women and girls' mental health, the same principle can be applied to men and boys' mental health. A gender inclusive mental health system would work to respond to the different needs of men and women and ensure an equitable balance of male-friendly and female-friendly approaches.
- Keeping it real: reimagining mental health care for all young men (Orygen)
- Mental health resources for men (Health Direct)
- Resources for men and mental health (Mengage)
- Mental Health and Suicide (Movember)
- Men and their mental health (Beyond Blue)
- Men's mental health (SANE)
- LGBTI Mental Health
- Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health