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Men's mental health under pressure as suicidal thoughts double in ten years

Thursday, 17 December 2020 Mind

Mind today reveals new research into men’s mental health showing that, while some progress has been made, men feel worried or low more regularly than ten years ago and are consequently twice as likely to feel suicidal.

‘Get It Off Your Chest: Men’s mental health 10 years on’ was commissioned by Mind as part of its charity partnership with the English Football League (EFL). The report compares new polling data from YouGov* with the same survey from 2009 to understand how the challenges facing men’s mental health have changed over the past decade.

The results paint a mixed picture, suggesting that, while men generally feel more able to seek help and open up about their mental health than a decade ago, those with current worries are still relying on coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol alone (13 per cent vs 9 per cent) and taking recreational drugs (4 per cent vs 1 per cent).

Men’s help-seeking behaviour has improved to a degree and men are now almost three times more likely to see a therapist, if they felt worried or low for two weeks or more, than in 2009. Men’s willingness to seek support from their GP has also jumped significantly and they are now equally as willing as women to do this (both 35 per cent). This suggests that the stigma around seeking support is lessening, with awareness-raising campaigns such as Time to Change challenging stereotypes of the ‘strong, silent’ man.

The report also suggests that more effort should be made by healthcare professionals to provide alternatives to medication for men. While it is encouraging that men are now more willing to seek help, they are not always receiving a range of treatment options that suit them. When asked to imagine they were seeing a GP about feeling anxious or low and didn’t want to be prescribed medication, the top alternatives that men would prefer are face-to-face therapy (32 per cent), physical activity (15 per cent) or a social activity (14 per cent).

Mind has piloted a model for physical activity sessions through its Get Set to Go programme, which supports people with mental health problems to get more active. The programme was expanded in 2019 through Mind’s partnership with the English Football League (EFL) with participants finding it increased their ability to take part in physical activity but also improved their social support structures and self-esteem.

While social media was very much present in 2009, it is clear that its influence over men’s mental wellbeing is now significant, with more than one in three men (37 per cent) saying social media has a negative impact on how they feel. Whether related or not, the number of men who are worried about their appearance has risen from 18 per cent in 2009 to 23 per cent, with people aged 18-24 particularly affected (39 per cent).

The report recommends the Government, NHS and employers better support men’s mental health. Three key asks are:

  • The NHS should co-produce mental health services with communities, including men, to make sure that effective support is available locally and meets men’s needs.
  • As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England has pledged that by 2023/24, 900,000 more people will have access to ‘social prescribing’ – a golden opportunity for men to access alternatives to traditional clinical services which support mental health, such as physical exercise, walking groups, gardening groups, or learning activities on prescription.
  • Men should continue to be a key target audience for suicide prevention action nationally and locally and the Government should set both national and local targets for suicide reduction.

Joe, 29, a teacher from Colchester, said of his difficulty in opening up about his mental health:

"By 16 my depression and eating disorder got so bad I had to drop out of everything. I stopped following or playing football altogether, losing touch with friends in the process. For a teenage boy, having an eating disorder, which are more associated with girls, meant I didn’t feel able to talk about it with friends or seek help. When I did build up the energy to go to a doctor, the experience was horrendous. I was in the chair for less than a couple of minutes, in which time he didn't even look up at me once. He just handed me a prescription for medication and sent me away.

“It was also hard to talk with family about how I felt as, although they were concerned, they took a 'stiff upper lip' approach to it. It hasn't been until much more recently that I've felt able to open up to them about what I went through those years ago. Seeing mental health much more visibly in the footballing world, like Mind's squiggle on the back of the Colchester United shirt, has meant I've felt more comfortable talking about it, particularly when I could go to match days with my Dad."

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“It’s really positive that men are more likely to seek help from the NHS and talk to friends and family about their mental health than they were 10 years ago. As a society, we have become more open about mental health in the last decade as campaigns such as Time to Change and Mind’s partnership with the English Football League (EFL) have helped to shift stigmatising attitudes and behaviours, and this may be beginning to filter through.

“Men still tell us that they struggle to get the help they need for their mental health. Sometimes they don’t know where to go for help or what’s on offer might not be suitable for them. The challenges facing men are likely to be compounded by the pandemic as well as the economic recession, not least because we know that men’s mental health tends to be more affected by unemployment.

“Our survey suggests that a wider range of options might be needed, such as physical activity and social activities, alongside access to talking therapies and medication. Ultimately, men are still three times as likely to take their own life their own life as women, so there is much more to do to make sure men can ask for help and can get the right support when they need it and before reaching crisis point. We call on the Government to respond to this unmet need urgently and for the NHS to be funded to provide a better range of mental health services tailored to the needs of men”

Key findings:

  • Two in five men (43 per cent) said they regularly feel worried or low, an increase from 37 per cent in 2009
  • When asked to choose the top three things that tend to happen when they can’t get rid of feeling worried or low, the number of men with current worries/concerns who have suicidal thoughts has doubled to 10 per cent since 2009
  • Men are now almost three times more likely to see a therapist when worried or low than in 2009 (17 per cent compared to 6 per cent)
  • Men are now equally as likely as women to see their GP if they feel worried or low, a large increase since 2009 (both 35 per cent)
  • When asked to imagine they were seeing a GP about feeling anxious or low for a while and they didn’t want to be prescribed anything, the top alternatives to medication that men would prefer are face-to-face therapy (32 per cent), physical activity (15 per cent) or a social activity (14 per cent)
  • When asked to choose the top three things they are most likely to do to relax when feeling worried or low, Men with current worries are still more likely than women to drink alone (13 per cent vs 9 per cent), go to the pub with friends (13 per cent vs 6 per cent), or take recreational drugs (4 per cent vs 1 per cent) to relax when feeling worried or down
  • Over a third of men (37 per cent) say social media has a negative impact on how they feel
  • The number of men who are worried about their appearance has risen from 18 per cent in 2009 to 23 per cent
  • The number of men who say that nothing would put them off finding help if they were feeling low has decreased by almost a fifth since 2009
  • When asked the main factor that would make it easier to seek support, men would be more likely to seek support if they felt worried or low if it was made available online (23 per cent), if they were guaranteed anonymity (12 per cent), or if help was made available at more convenient times of day (13 per cent)

The full report can be found here: www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,111 adults in 2019, and 2055 in 2009. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10–11 September 2019 and 27th -29th January 2009. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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