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 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.
At any one time, it is believed that one in eight men and one in five women have a common mental health problem, such as depression and anxiety.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 are more likely to suppress their sadness. Sadly, men are also less likely to admit that they may be living with depression as it can be falsely perceived to be a sign of weakness.
The lifetime rate of depression is around 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. It is estimated that 10% of new fathers suffer from postnatal depression.2
According to the National Childbirth Trust, 25% of new fathers experience mild depressive episodes and between 10-12% are diagnosed with depression in the first year of fatherhood.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 (February, 2022) reveal the following:
75% of deaths by suicide are men.
For men under 50 suicide is the biggest cause of death.
In 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported the first decline in male life expectancy since the 1980s.
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. Middle-aged men are particularly at risk. 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 to feel 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'.
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 above 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 The Mental Health Foundation, Men and women: Statistics, [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/men-women-statistics
- 2 Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis, The National Library of Medicine, [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20483973/
- 3 National Childbirth Trust, Postnatal depression in dads and co-parents: 10 things you should know, [online] Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/life-parent/emotions/postnatal-depression-dads-and-co-parents-10-things-you-should-know
- 4 The Samaritans: Men, Suicide and Society, [online], Available at: https://media.samaritans.org/documents/Samaritans_MenSuicideSociety_ResearchReport2012.pdf
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