Changing how we talk about men’s mental health

The rate of mental health disorders between men and women is about the same, yet fewer men access professional help or a service. Men are also more likely to die from destructive coping mechanisms like suicide, drugs and alcohol. Why is that? And can changing the way we talk about men’s mental health make a difference?

Did you know that more than 45% of Australians aged 16-85 years have at some point in life experienced a mental illness? Yet 65% percent of people who are struggling mentally don’t take serious steps, like seeing someone about it[1]?

And did you know that men are less likely than women to actively take steps to access a service or some kind of professional help, even though the rate of mental health disorders is about the same? We know this because men account for only 40% of Medicare-subsidised mental health services in Australia[2]. That means there are a huge number of men out there who aren’t getting help.

 

“Men account for only 40% of Medicare-subsidised mental health services in Australia.”

 

We also know that a man is more likely to die from destructive coping mechanisms like suicide, drugs and alcohol.

For example, did you know:

  • The number of suicide deaths is approximately three times higher in males than females[3]
  • Men are more likely to die because of alcohol and drug use than women[4].

These aren’t insignificant figures. Why is there such a shocking difference?

As with so many things in life, the reasons are many and complex. A range of psychological, physical and environmental factors can contribute to the problem. Social background, economic factors (such as unemployment), physical health, a family history of mental illness, alcohol and drug consumption, childhood and family stability and even some genes are among many of the things known to play a part.

Even so, 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.

Thankfully, there’s good news. There is more research and evidence than ever that shows support programs can make a huge difference to men if they are based around their specific needs, preferences and strengths.

 

How can we support change?

 

New ways to provide support

In the world of professional mental health care there has been a big increase in the number of ‘non-traditional’ ways that counselling is provided. In recent years we’ve seen not only phone counselling services but also online and other digital services become more popular.

In a large country like Australia, these are great ways to make up for huge travel distances, especially in rural or remote areas where there might be limited services.

However, closing travel distance isn’t the only reason why these services are more widespread. What is also getting more recognition is that these forms of support can work well for people who might like to try something other than being ‘on the couch’.

If more men who could do with support (but who wouldn’t opt for the face-to-face option) take up these new services, then that means more people get the help they need.

 

Change the message

On MensLine Australia, counsellors are trained to use a style that’s based around communicating about goals and solutions, rather than just ‘talking about feelings’.

An example is in the way language gets used. Counsellors might refer to something as “mental fitness” instead of “suffering from mental health issues”.

Talking about obtaining help and support as a show of strength, taking control and getting things back on track can in turn change the way someone feels about mental health. That means asking someone if they’ve been “struggling with” or “battling against” pressures rather than “feeling sad or depressed”. Even thinking of mental health as “stress” increases the likelihood of men accessing support and taking on those suggestions that can improve their situation.

 

Support specifically for men

Another way that services are changing is by changing the approach to providing support.

For example, communication style is a big one. You probably know that men and women tend to communicate differently. Incorporating sometimes surprisingly simple concepts such as a change in stance has been shown to make communication easier and more effective.

One way of doing this is the ‘shoulder to shoulder’ style of communicating, which tends to suit men better. Many men opt for this style of talking when it comes to serious discussions. A characteristic of this style is that eye contact is usually minimised — think of guys discussing things while watching sport, gaming or fishing. Recognising how small but significant things can improve communication is in itself an effective way to improve the success rate of support services.

MensLine Australia Tip Sheet

Men and emotions

Changing the environment

Another concept that’s been shown to be effective is the concept of activities in specific places. The idea is that a conversation that touches on things like emotions and mental health will be more effective if it takes place in a ‘friendly’ or familiar environment, such as in a sporting or outdoors location.

There are many reasons for this but they all centre around the principle that a ‘better’ environment means men are more likely to open up and be receptive to support.

 

Beyond traditional help

There is a growing body of evidence that shows that new approaches can greatly benefit the way in which we manage men’s mental health.

The mental health profession needs to look beyond the traditional ways in which support is delivered. New and innovative ways of providing help will make it easier for men to get the help and support they need. The health of our society depends on it.

 

MensLine Australia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors providing information and support for all relationship issues.

Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or access online counselling.

 

References

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Mental Health Statistics, 2015

[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Medicare subsidised mental health-specific services 2019-20

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics – Causes of Death, Australia, 2019

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics – Causes of Death, Australia, 2019

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