It’s time we started talking about men’s mental health
Silence is costing lives at university
It remains a fact that men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women. Yet the limited on-campus debate and discussion surrounding mental health seems to be mostly focussed on women.
So, why aren’t young men reaching out for help? Well, it’s not that simple.
Women are often raised to be better at verbalising their emotion and intellectualising their pain. It’s hard to ask for help when you don’t understand the emotions you're feeling. Especially if you're ashamed at having the emotion in the first place. It seems that on campus, women’s mental health is something that people are much more comfortable talking about.
So, are men less likely to commit suicide? While recorded cases of women suffering with mental health conditions is higher, cases of suicide are higher in men. Men are, on average, three times more likely to kill themselves than women are. Three times. Men in the UK aged 20-49 are more likely to die from suicide than from any other cause. This includes cancer, accidents and underlying health conditions.
Mental health issues such as depression, self harm or suicide is seen to be gender specific. They are, by many, seen to be feminine problems. Young men struggling with mental illness inherently face a double disadvantage of being both mentally ill and failing to conform to societal norms of masculinity.
According to the UK government: “self harming in young people is not uncommon with 10-13% of 15-16 year olds having self harmed in their lifetime." Yet only a fraction of cases are admitted to hospital. Many cases of self harm in young people are ignored and those in contact with young people remain unaware of how and when, to refer somebody for further support.
It is important to note that the majority of reported incidences of self harm are concerning women and girls, not men. This does not mean that it isn’t occurring, but rather that it is being more carefully hidden from parents and guardians.
Even when men do reach out for help, they are often met with the same failings that women may encounter. Mental health in the NHS is underfunded and requires a certain severity of illness to present itself before help is provided.
Another issue is that comorbidity of illness is often seen as a reason not to offer help. For example, if a male student is struggling with both depression and alcohol dependency, he can usually receive help for one issue at a time. This raises the issue that many people are depressed because they drink, and they drink because they are depressed.
Perhaps we are more prone to talk about mental illness in women on campus because women tend to attempt suicide more often than men. However, they are also far less likely to succeed. Women are also more likely to ask for help from a friend, loved one, or GP. Societal pressures may make young men feel as though this is not an option. Young men face both a lack of education surrounding mental illness and a lack of knowledge about how and where to go to get help.
According to the Samaritans in 2015, male suicide rates could mean the equivalent of one preventable death by suicide at Warwick university every single year. The stress of being away from home, at a competitive university, plus easy access to alcohol and drugs could mean that these rates are even higher.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common mental disorders men face include (but are not limited to):
Anxiety Disorders including social phobia, Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Eating Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Psychosis, Schizophrenia, Substance Use Disorder, Suicidal thoughts, Complications related to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI.)
Many of these illnesses are easily exacerbated by the stress of university. Therefore, it is even more important to be aware of such mental health issues particularly during such times.
If you are worried about a friend or relative, especially one between the ages of 20-24 and 40-49 then some warning signs to watch out for are as follows:
Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite, Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge, Increased worry or feeling stressed, A need for alcohol or drugs, Sadness or hopelessness, Suicidal thoughts, Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions, Engaging in high-risk activities, Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain, Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior, Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life, Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people