Get talking with men about mental health

Supporting men everyday

Ahead of International Men’s Day on November 19, this month, we’re sharing meaningful ways to support the mental health of the men in our lives.

Supporting a person’s mental health is something we can take steps to do every day.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 'National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing', more women than men are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, OCD and PTSD.

These statistics reveal further grim revelation - that Australian men are less likely to seek help when they’re experiencing stress, anxiety and depression.

The Australian Institute of Family Services (AIFS) research found a quarter (25%) of men said they would seek help from a mental health professional if they were experiencing personal or emotional problems.

While it’s not as simple as a single ‘catching up for a beer’ – we can all work to create an environment where men feel more comfortable opening the conversation about how they’re feeling.

What affects men’s mental health?

When men do share their feelings, most of the time do it first with their partner or a loved one, according to a study by Priory Group.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies' research, more than 80% of adult men in the study who had experienced depression, anxiety or suicidality in the past 12 months had been in contact with a GP during that time, around only 40% had been in contact with a mental health professional. (Source: AIFS)

Some of the major sources of stress for men include, but are not limited to: physical health, financial and family related issues. These can be experiencing a serious illness, the death of a family member or friend, loneliness, retirement, unemployment, partner’s pregnancy and the birth of a baby and divorce or separation.

To get a clearer picture of why men choose not to share, we need to find what is influencing them.

The Priory Group study also suggests, some of the underlying reasons why men choose not to share include:

  • 'I’ve learnt to deal with it'
  • 'I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone'
  • 'I’m too embarrassed'
  • 'There’s negative stigma around this type of thing'
  • 'I don’t want to admit I need support'
  • 'I don’t want to appear weak'
  • 'I have no-one to talk to'

MensLine Australia suggest the way in which many men deal with their stresses and worries is thought to be one of the underlying causes.

A lot of men are reluctant to talk to or see someone about their concerns. They may feel it is somehow a sign of weakness, that their worries aren’t serious enough, or that they’ll be judged by their friends and family.

Understanding the effects

The effect of these attitudes is that men will often go under-diagnosed, even un-diagnosed, when it comes to their mental health.

Statistics show men are less likely to take steps to seek professional help. In Australia, men account for only 40% of Medicare-subsidised mental health services.

The impact continues beyond diagnostic statistics.

Over 500,000 Australians will experience depression and substance abuse at the same time, at some point in their lives. Australian men are twice as likely as females to experience alcohol abuse (Sources: BeyondBlue, ABS).

Dr Mark Deady, a UNSW Senior Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, is leading the research into the Workplace Mental Health Research Program. This program has a strong focus on mental health initiatives in high-risk industries, including male-dominated industries such as construction.

“In male-dominated industries, this lack of help-seeking is even more pronounced. There still tends to be quite a stigma around mental ill-health and there can be difficulties expressing emotions and a greater focus on self-reliance and self-medication (through drugs and alcohol).” (Source: Infrastructure)

Recognising the signs

When you consider these statistics, we can find tangible ways to recognise when the men around us might be struggling.

Some symptoms of mental health which are experienced by men and women are:

  • Persistent sense of worry
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness
  • Withdrawal from friends or family
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • Physical symptoms like shortness of breath and headaches

Some symptoms are more common in men, such as:

  • Substance abuse
  • Anger and irritability
  • Working obsessively
  • Sleep problems
  • Reckless behaviour

Ways to reach out

Want to reach out, but not sure how?

Everyone can respond differently to life’s challenges.

There are several ways to connect with our friends, family or colleagues:

  • The ALEC method – Ask, Listen, Encourage action and Check-in
  • Stay social – make a time to catch up for a physical activity or non-alcoholic drink
  • Speak to someone they/you both trust
  • If they mention wanting to see their GP or a therapist, you can offer to drive or accompany them if they need the support

How to better support men in your teams

If one of your colleagues or employees are struggling at work, you can show your support in the workplace by:

  • Making time to catch up with the person – see if your workplace can provide any reasonable workplace accommodations to support them.
  • Change the environment – your mate, family member or colleague may not feel as comfortable talking about their mental health at home or at work. Instigating a conversation may be more effective if it’s in a ‘friendlier’ environment such as an outdoors or familiar location.
  • Offering flexible working arrangements – enabling an employee to attend any medical or health appointments, or a working from home arrangement which supports their mental health.
  • Providing access to mental health services – Workplaces can provide access to Employee Assistance Programs. This is a highly beneficial investment, which can increase employee retention.