This week (15 – 21) is Men’s Health Week. While there are many challenges experienced by both men and women in society, mental health is especially relevant for the men in our lives.
By Connor Grogan, AMH Works Trainer
Let’s start with some stats
It’s well known that Northern Ireland has the highest rates of mental-ill health in the UK, with a 25% higher prevalence of mental health issues, compared to England. This means that at any one time here, 1 in 5 people will be experiencing a mental health issue.
What’s that got to do with men? Unfortunately, a lot of the support available is not being accessed by men. On average, women are more likely than men to report signs of a mental health issue; recently, the prescription rate for mood and anxiety disorders was 66% higher among women than men. This means men run the risk of being left behind when it comes to tackling mental health issues in both our communities and work. The support that most women are receiving in Northern Ireland is the same support that there is for men, and with our suicide rates three times the rate of road deaths, increasing trends show men are more at risk of this too.
What does this all mean? Well, men’s mental health is suffering and the lack of engagement with support is clear. If we can reduce stigma and improve our own capacities, personally and professionally, we can work together to break the mould.
‘That’s not how a man should handle things…’
Society places many traditional roles on people. Women have spent hundreds of years combating the many challenges and stereotypes they face, and still do. For men, traditional expectations have been handed down, generation after generation, detailing how a man ‘should’ behave and what masculinity means – this may play a role in the mental health inequalities faced today. In a patriarchal society, there is the expectation that men should be the breadwinners of the family and demonstrate exclusively ‘masculine traits’. These traits include strength, dominance, power and control, with these stereotypes demanding that they get on with things because they’re ‘grand’. This denies a huge spectrum of emotion and feeling, which is the very nature of being human – and when you deny experience, you deny peace of mind.
Many scientists and researchers have shown that men who feel they are unable to speak openly about feelings and rely on traditional ‘manly’ ideals instead, experience increased distress, poorer mental health and actually struggle to recognise when they need help themselves, and are therefore unlikely to reach out for support. So what can I do? Talking about mental health awareness in a variety of personal and professional settings, helps reduce stigma, shatters societal expectations and increases the likelihood of support uptake, especially amongst men.
Suicide and men
Between 2000 and 2018, 4,783 deaths were registered as suicide in NI. In 2018, there was 307 registered deaths by suicide, a familiar figure over the last decade and the third highest since records began in 1970. It’s become common knowledge that men are more likely to die by suicide, but how much more likely? During Men’s Health Week, we acknowledge all lives lost by suicide, and especially the men in our society – with an increasing trend in suicide activity – it must be reduced. In the last 5 years alone, 360 women completed suicide, compared to 1,136 men – nearly four times as many men took their own lives.
Who are these men? They’re husbands, brothers, sons, fathers, colleagues and friends – people. In men under 50, suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK. In 2018, the highest number of male deaths by suicide in NI was in the 25 – 29 age group and 30 – 34 age group. Suicide is also touching young people, suicide figures in under 18s in NI are disproportionately higher when compared to the rest of the UK. It’s clear to see nobody is immune to mental ill-health, however it’s difficult to interpret the trend amongst male suicide in NI as unavoidable – the smallest steps in reducing suicide often make the biggest difference.
If you are seeking help and you, or someone you know is in distress, please contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 anytime, where you can speak to a trained counsellor.
Mental health at work
Fulfilling employment can provide a person with a sense of achievement, purpose and an opportunity to connect with others on a daily basis – it can be great for our physical wellbeing and mental health. However, mental health issues are common and for many people the places they work can have a big impact on their ability to identify and receive help. Companies, no matter how big or small that show they take mental health seriously, and focus on engendering a palpable and proactive wellbeing ethos, experience happier, healthier and more productive employees. It’s been reported that stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 54% of all working days lost due to ill-health. There has also been an increase in ‘presenteeism’ (working whilst unwell) and ‘leaveism’ (using holidays excessively in difficult times). These new and subtle patterns can exacerbate mental health issues and further reduce the likelihood of male support seeking, not to mention economically affecting the business too.
What can an organisation do? People spend 33% of their time at work. Proactive mental health and suicide prevention training as part of this time at work, sends a clear message – that you want to and are able to help within your duty of care, especially to the male workers that may be more traditionally reluctant to come forward. It’s clear that men’s mental health is suffering now, more than ever, but with education and upskilling in our professional and personal lives, it is possible to reduce and recover – together.
AMH Works provide a range of programmes which support employers to improve mental and emotional well-being in the workplace and create Healthy, Resilient Workplaces.
To find out more contact AMH Works Manager, Shelly Wilson on 07540124083 or [email protected].
There may be times when you need extra support. If you’re finding things really difficult you might want to speak to your line manager, a GP, Lifeline or Samaritans. Further information on sources of support is available on www.amh.org.uk.
CIPD (2020) Health and well-being at work. Available here.
Mental Health Foundation (2016) Mental health in Northern Ireland: Fundamental Facts 2016. Available here.
Mental Health Foundation (2020) Men and mental health. Available here.
NISRA (2019) Suicide statistics and strategy in Northern Ireland: Update, available here.
The Chartered Institute of Building (2020) Understanding mental health in the built environment, available here.