Men and mental health: Male loneliness

Some clichés might be true. Loneliness isn’t gendered. Feeling lonely is universal, and cuts across gender, age, and even relationship status. However, men in particular can tend to struggle to express their feelings and to form the types of deeper connections that women do. Many men might find that talking about football or politics is the default in their conversations with friends, and at times may struggle when there are life events or emotional issues that they might need more support for. 


The clichés that men aren’t always very good at talking to each other or asking for help may well be true and provable following a number of studies that show the differences in the ways men and women tend to make friendships and then maintain them. Despite the universal need for stable and caring relationships, levels of intimacy in male friendships have been observed to be lower for men. 

Male loneliness

Around one in eight men report that they have no friends to discuss things they may need support with (such as work problems, money worries or mental health), according to a YouGov survey. One-third of men also report regularly feeling lonely. This same study found that the probability of men having no friends trebled between their early 20s and late middle age, with married men more likely to be affected.

There are likely to be a number of reasons for this, from what happens in male friendships through the different life stages, to men’s perceptions and attitudes towards friendship, and the more inherent and perhaps gendered ways that men seek out and maintain connections with friends. 

Manly men

A study on men and suicide by the Samaritans found that men still compare themselves to a ‘gold standard' of behaviour that extols power, control, and invincibility. 

The study highlighted that in childhood, men are raised and conditioned in a way that demonstrates being ‘manly’ doesn’t require social and emotional skills. These are perceived as ‘soft’ skills that women only need to possess. Women are therefore more apt to acknowledge their loneliness because the negative consequences of admitting loneliness feel heightened for men.

As well as showing that men are much less likely to receive support or treatment for mental health issues than women, and are much more likely to die by suicide; the report also noted that men tend to rely more heavily on a partner for emotional support, rather than turning to family and friends. This potentially leaves men feeling isolated when there are difficulties in the relationship, or there are problems a man feels he simply can’t take to his partner. 

Doing, not talking 

A series of studies have found that how men receive and offer companionship and connection differs greatly from the way women do. Men have been shown to generally prefer doing activities together in friendship groups (i.e. listening to music, going to the pub, or playing sports), which is preferable to talking. A 2017 study showed that men bond better through face-to-face contact and interactions, whilst women find it easier to have an emotional connection through phone conversations.

The social structures that maintain friendships also differ for men and women. Studies have shown that men tend to have more casual friendships at surface level, whereas women seek out deeper connections and intimacy in their friendships. It has also been observed by psychologists that male friendships are more likely to flourish in groups, whereas women favour one-to-one interactions, which again are likely to be functions of the level of conversational depth and connection desired by men and women.

Maintaining friendships

The evolution of friendships as men get older can play a big part in how connected and supported they feel. As men settle down with a partner and begin to have children in their thirties, many of the social activities and groups men cultivated in their twenties can fall away. There is simply less time for friendships and they become deprioritised. 

Studies show that men who maintain their social groups are less likely to suffer from depression caused by worries about money and job insecurity. They’re even able to recover quicker from illnesses than those with less social contact (as we know that being social and feeling emotionally connected to others can boost the functioning of the immune system). 

Most men however feel they get much less time in their social groups than they need. Only 40% of men report seeing their friends weekly. This makes maintaining these connections and support systems difficult - friendships require both time and ongoing maintenance. 

A Samaritans report emphasises that the significance of these friendships should not be played down simply because they are not intimate in the same way that women’s relationships tend to be. Crucially, many men highly value a ‘no questions asked’ attitude – unconditional acceptance and permission not to talk about their problems. Just having a support group of friends, even if it is not one that talks in any great depth or with intimacy, can still provide vital support to men when they experience periods of stress, anxiety, and depression in their lives, and is well worth the time and effort required to maintain it. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N4 & E17
Written by Danielle Corbett, (MBACP (Accred), Adv. Dip)
London N4 & E17

I am a qualified and professionally trained psychotherapist in North London, with a background in NHS Mental Health Services. I also work with a wide and very diverse range of people from all backgrounds in my private practice based near Finsbury park.

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