Mental health problems can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or social background. Despite this however, studies have shown that certain mental illnesses affect men and women differently.
Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) finding is that while on average more women are diagnosed with common mental health problems than men, the rate of male suicide is significantly higher.
This suggests that men are suffering with mental distress, but may not be receiving (or indeed asking for) the help they need. On this page we will look at some statistics surrounding men's mental health, and how talk therapy can help.
Men and mental health
As with many mental health statistics, it is difficult to know if mental health figures represent what is truly happening. This is because these numbers can only tell us about mental health problems that have been reported or admitted to. It is expected that many cases go unreported and undiagnosed.
This is believed to be especially true when it comes to men's mental health.
At any one time, it is believed that one in five women (19.7%) and one in eight men (12.5%) are diagnosed with a common mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.1
According to the Men's Health Forum, 73% of adults who 'go missing' are men and 87% of those sleeping rough are men. Looking at the prison system, the forum says men make up 95% of the prison population, with 72% of male prisoners suffering from two or more mental disorders.
In terms of substance abuse, men are more likely to develop a problem. Men's Health Forum found that men are almost three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol. This equates to 8.7% of men, compared to 3.3% of women. Men are also three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women.
Depression in men
Depression is often found to be more difficult to diagnose in men. This is because men don't tend to complain about the typical symptoms, more often than not, it's the physical symptoms of depression that lead them to visit their doctor.
According to netdoctor.co.uk, the lifetime rate of depression is 12% in women and 8% in men. This marked difference could, however, be due to fewer men seeking help for depression.
Commonly associated with new mothers, postnatal depression can also affect new fathers. In a 2010 meta-analysis looking at 43 studies, it was estimated that 10% of new fathers around the world suffer from postnatal depression.2
A survey was carried out by the National Childbirth Trust between 2013 and 2014. This found that among the 296 new fathers surveyed, over a third (38%) said they were concerned about their mental health.3
Men and suicide
The main reason experts suspect more men are affected by mental health problems than is reported is the high number of male suicide.
Statistics compiled by the Men's Health Forum (July 2014) reveal the following:
4 in 5 suicides (78%) are by men.
For men under 35 suicide is the biggest cause of death.
In the last five years, the suicide rate in males aged 45-59 has increased significantly to 22.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
A 2012 study carried out by The Samaritans looked into the factors that might help to explain why certain groups of men are more likely than women to complete suicide.4
Two important risk factors found were age and socioeconomic status. As we can see in the above statistics, middle-aged men are particularly at risk, with numbers of suicides in males aged 45-59 increasing over the last five years.
Middle-aged men today face being in two very different generations, the pre-war 'silent' and the post-war 'me' generation. This means they may feel stuck somewhere between the strong, silent male stereotype of their father's generation and the more progressive and open generation of their son's.
On top of this, middle-age is a time when the weight of previous long-term decisions reveal themselves. Making changes can come with a hefty cost, financially and socially. Feeling trapped under choices made earlier in life can seriously compromise mental well-being.
The study also revealed that the suicide rate was 10 times higher in men who have a lower socioeconomic status than affluent males. There has been a well-known link between unemployment and suicide for some time but, in this study, the authors discuss why, beyond losing a job, socioeconomic status might affect suicide rate.
One potential factor the authors identified was the "feminisation" of employment, where there is a shift towards a service-orientated economy. It is thought that this may lead some men feeling like they have less of a purpose in the professional world. It is also hypothesised that men may feel as if they’ve lost a sense of masculine identity and male 'pride'.
The authors highlight that we do not yet know enough about the actual 'psychological routes' that lead to depression in men and suicide. For example, we do not know why or how personal problems, financial difficulties etc. lead to suicide more often in men than women.
One suggestion from the study is to develop effective interventions for young boys at risk as many of the patterns seen to lead to suicide in middle age often begin in youth.
How can counselling help?
The high rate of male suicide illustrated in the above section points to a concern that men are less willing to seek counselling than women. So, why is this? Experts agree that it is likely to be a combination of factors, from society's expectation of 'men' to a desire to solve one's own problems.
Mental health charities and the media have looked to change the stigma surrounding mental health and particularly the stigma of asking for support. The truth is, all of us need the support of others at some point in our lives - regardless of gender.
Talk therapy has been shown to help with many of the key mental health issues experienced by men, including stress, anxiety, addiction and depression. The key is recognising that you need support and seeking help before these problems get on top of you.
Talking to a professional is a way to take back control. You will be able to work with the counsellor to establish healthier ways of thinking and devise coping mechanisms. If you are unsure of what to expect during a counselling session, you may find our what is counselling page helpful.
Taking that first step should never be considered a moment of weakness - instead, it shows true strength of character.
- 1 C. Deverill and M. King (2009), ‘Common mental disorders’, in Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey
- 2 Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(19), pp. 1961–9.
- 3 National Childbirth Trust, (2015). Dads in distress: Many new fathers are worried about their mental health | NCT. [online] Available at: http:// www.nct.org.uk/press-release/dads-distress-many-new-fathers-are-worried- about-their-mental-health
- 4 The Samaritans: Men, Suicide and Society. http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Men%20and%20Suicide%20Research%20Report%20210912.pdf
Page last reviewed: 26/02/16