Thursday 10 October 2019 is World Mental Health Day and a great opportunity to talk about men’s mental health.
So where to start?
We’ve come up with 10 conversation topics to help get people talking about men’s mental health.
They open with a statement or question about men’s health, with some background information to help you take the conversation a little deeper.
You can share these conversation starters on social media with family and friends or print them off and share them at work or in your community. Let’s get people talking about men’s mental health.
#01: Is men's mental health in crisis?
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. having anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse) than women (0.8% compared with 0.6%)
What do these statistics tell you about men’s mental health and women’s mental health?
#02 Exercise is good for your mental health
According to Exercise Is Medicine, an initiative managed in Australia by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), people who undertake regular physical activity or exercise, even at very low levels, are less likely to experience symptoms of depression and are less likely to experience future depressive episodes.
Exercise has a moderate clinical effect on depressive symptoms and may be as effective as psychological or pharmaceutical therapies for some individuals. Physical activity and exercise is also effective in reducing symptoms of depression for people experiencing other mental disorders.
Perhaps more importantly, regular physical activity and exercise are well-established strategies for weight management, improving diabetes control and reducing the impact of cardiovascular disease that often occurs in mental illness, including depression.
#03 1 in 4 Australian men lack social connection
A lack of social connections is known to be bad for our physical and mental health. Conversely, having a good social support network is linked to better mental health.
Research shows that around 1 in 4 Australian men lack strong social connections. A 2014 Beyond Blue/Movember study into men’s social connections found that men with very high levels of psychological distress were four times more likely to have low levels of social support, when compared with men experiencing low levels of psychological distress (49% v 12%).
Some research has found that lacking social connection can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
#04 Is masculinity good for your health
Masculinity is increasingly positioned as having a negative impact on men’s mental health. From public debates about “toxic masculinity” to the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines on working with men which state that “traditional masculine ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development……and negatively influence mental health".
But what about the positive impacts that masculinity can have on men’s health?
According to the APA, their guidelines also support encouraging the positive aspects of ‘traditional masculinity’ such as courage and leadership.
The approach that places the greatest focus on understanding the positive impact that masculinity can have on men’s mental health is probably the Positive Psychology/Positive Masculinity (PPPM) model.
This approach encourages mental health professionals to recognise how each of the following 10 masculine behaviours and traditions can be building blocks for promoting good mental health in men and boys:
- male relational styles
- generative fatherhood
- male ways of caring
- male self-reliance
- the worker-provider tradition of husbands and fathers
- male daring, courage, and risk taking
- the group orientation of boys and men
- the humanitarian service of fraternal organisations
- men's use of humour
- male heroism.
#05 Talking isn't the only way men cope
While there is a lot of focus reducing stigma around people (and particularly men) having conversations about our mental health, it’s important to remember that talking isn’t the only coping mechanism.
Men in particular seem to have a range of coping mechanisms that don’t involve talking. An Australian study into men’s use of positive coping strategies asked over 700 men what strategies they used on a regular basis ‘to keep myself feeling OK or on an even keel from day to day’.
The top 10 answers were:
- Eat healthily (54.2%)
- Keep myself busy (50.1%)
- Exercise (44.9%)
- Use humour to reframe thoughts/feelings (41.1)
- Do something for someone else (35.7%)
- Spend time with a pet (34.8%)
- Accept my sad feelings (32.7%)
- Achieve something big or small (31%)
- Hang out with positive people (30.8%)
- Notice my thoughts and change my perspective (30.5%)
Interestingly, men rated “talking to people close to me or someone I trust” at number 11 in their list of coping strategies.
#06 Men are less likely to access mental health services
The 2007 national survey of mental health and wellbeing found that women with mental health disorders are around 50% more likely to 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%).
#07 Mental health issues aren't all in the mind
According to the NSW Men’s Health Framework there are seven major life events that can negatively impact men’s health and wellbeing. These are:
- suddenly or unexpectedly becoming unemployed
- becoming a parent for the first time
- experiencing a relationship breakdown
- starting a new job
- finishing school
- starting university or college.
These stressful life events were identified in the 2016 Global Health & Wellbeing Survey. Significantly, nearly half of the men (46%) who had experienced a stressful life event in last 12 months reported suicidal thoughts.
#08 3 in 4 suicides are men
Suicide kills 8 people a day in Australia, six men and two women.
In the past decade the number of male suicides has risen by around 30% from 1,785 in 2009 to 2,320 in 2018.
Suicide is the leading killer of men under 45 in Australia though the issue affects men and boys of all ages. Men of working age (25-64) account for 70% of all male suicides and men aged over 85 have the highest rates of male suicide.
One thing we can all do to help prevent male suicide is to learn how to have meaningful conversations with the men in our lives.
There are lots of guides and tools available to help you develop your skills. For example, the RU OK? campaign has produced a series of short #manspeak videos aimed at making it easier for men to start mental health conversations with their mates.
You can check out the #manspeak series here.
#09 It's said men speak 'shoulder-to-shoulder'
The idea that men tend to engage in conversation and social connection ‘side by side’ more than women, who tend to engage ‘face to face’ emerged in the 1970s in research into same-sex friendships.
While there are of course exceptions to every rule, researchers have consistently found sex differences from an early age that show boys and men tending towards friendships built on an external shared interest, activity or goal, while women and girls tend towards friendships built around an interest in each other, with researchers describing women’s conversations as more intimate and self-disclosing.
In 2008, Dr Geoffrey Greif conducted a study of 400 men and 100 women for his book Buddy System, Understanding Male Friendships. The book aimed to dispel the myth that men don't have real friends and mapped what their friendships look like over the lifespan.
He highlighted the link between male friendship and men’s health and reaffirmed the theory ‘shoulder to shoulder’ style of male friendship was real.
This concept is best known in Australia through the men’s sheds movement which has adopted the motto “men don’t speak face to face, they speak shoulder to shoulder”.
#10 Two in 2 men experience traumatic events
According to research into trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in Australia, nearly 3 in 5 Australians report experiencing a traumatic event.
Men are more likely than women to experience most of the main types of traumas, except for sexual assaults, and more likely to experience multiple traumas.
Common types of trauma include experiencing a serious violent attack or threat, being in a life-threatening accident, experiencing a fire, flood or other natural disaster, seeing someone get badly injured or killed, being sexually assaulted, being in a war, experiencing any kind of extremely stressful or upsetting event or having a traumatic event happen to someone close to you.
For men and women the most common traumas are accidents, natural disasters and seeing someone else get badly injured or killed. Men are:
- twice as likely to be involved in a life-threatening accident (29.5% v 13.7%)
- twice as likely to witness someone being badly injured or killed (20.9% v 13.6%)
- 50% more likely to be involved in a natural disaster (38.2% v 16.2%)
- twice as likely to have experienced 4 or more traumas (12.1% to 6%).
Overall 2 in 3 men (65.5%) experience traumatic life events compared with 1 in 2 women (50.9%) though women are slightly more likely to be living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which affects 1.3% of men and 1.6% of women.