Men’s Mental Health: It’s more than being too manly

Published on Jun 10, 2024

by Dr. Duck

When discussing men’s mental health, it’s often attributed to outdated social norms and the expectation that men should fulfill certain societal roles. Men are typically portrayed as overly stoic, hesitant to seek help, reluctant to discuss their emotions, and generally prone to withdrawing from society. Over time, this has led to the belief that men’s failure to seek help and express their emotions results in isolation and misery.

For years, the primary focus on improving men’s mental health has been to encourage them to be more open and less traditionally ‘manly’ about their feelings. But has this been working?

It’s worth asking if encouraging men to seek more help and express their feelings would be beneficial. While women are more likely to do so, they also experience higher rates of mental health disorders throughout their lives.

This isn’t to suggest that expressing emotions or seeking help is detrimental; women face specific challenges that may contribute to poorer mental health. But speaking up more often clearly does not inoculate women from mental health difficulties entirely. So why do we think it will think it will be so effective for men?

Nevertheless, whenever I see promotions about the mental health of men, it always seems to be overly focussed on the importance of tackling old fashioned stereotypes about masculinity rather than addressing the systemic factors that create their mental health issues in the first place.

Since it’s Men’s Health Week, let’s delve deeper into the less obvious, more insidious issues commonly faced by men.

Physical Health: Men often neglect their physical health, visiting GPs less frequently than women and skipping routine health screenings.

This explains, at least in part, why men are so unhealthy. They are more likely to be overweight or obese. Men also disproportionately suffer more from every non-sex specific health problem like heart disease and strokes. Men are also at a higher risk of developing and dying from cancer.

There is certainly a role to play in encouraging men to seek healthcare more often and much faster when they present with symptoms. However, it isn’t clear that men are afraid to speak up. Because men are more likely to be in full-time work, they also find it harder to make time for their doctor. When men finally do attend an appointment, doctors spend less time with them even though they tend to present with diseases in more advanced stages.

Failing to address health will ultimately lead to a poorer prognosis and can diminish quality of life, leading to helplessness and despair.

Dangerous Jobs: Although men are often in executive roles, they are also prevalent in harsh industries such as mining, manufacturing, construction, transport, and essential services like electricity and water. These industries, where up to 75% of the workforce are male, involve high-risk, hazardous tasks.

The dangerous nature of these jobs is believed to contribute to the shorter life expectancy of men compared to women. It is understood, for example, that for every two women that die, there are three men that die.

It isn’t clear why men are overrepresented in these jobs. Aside from tradition, men appear to be more attracted to the higher salaries in certain industries and are less deterred by hazards and isolated work. This issue is not likely to be addressed in the short-term by challenging social norms. Instead, we might be better off simply making these jobs safer.

High-Stress Jobs: The design of jobs in these industries can also lead to unpleasant and demanding schedules that disrupt sleep patterns, extend working hours, and isolate workers. Such conditions can increase fatigue and long-term health problems, with disrupted sleep cycles now recognised as a potential carcinogen.

Substance Abuse: Men are more likely to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms for mental health issues, which can exacerbate mental distress and deteriorate their physical health. This behaviour is also a contributing factor to homelessness, which is more prevalent among men and both a cause and consequence of mental health issues.

Suicide Risk: Although women are more likely to suffer from depression, men are more likely to die by suicide. This is often because men choose more violent and definitive methods.

This discussion underscores the critical aspects of Men’s Health Week. While men might not experience mental health issues as frequently as women, they are more likely to die from them when they do.

From this analysis, a few crucial strategies emerge for protecting men’s mental health:

Improving Healthcare and Screenings: Beyond encouraging men to discuss their mental health, there is a vital need to reduce barriers to visiting GPs and promote health screenings for men. Without the underlying foundation of health, it is unlikely we’ll see a boost in the well-being of men through targeting mental health directly.

Addressing Workload and Safety in High-Risk Industries: Reducing harm to men also involves making these industries safer and more human-centered in their design. Currently, men are working far too long in hazardous jobs and in isolation, and failing to get adequate rest.  

Practical Job / Work Improvements. Mental health issues are often caused directly from work stressors, yet mental health is often considered an personal problem. The management of stress, anxiety, and burnout is often associated with systemic workplace factors, such as the job design. Further support could be provided to men to help them navigate and manage their workplace challenges by coaching them to change the way they and others work.

In this week of men’s health, I say move on from simply encouraging men to seek help. We need to examine the deeper systemic problems of healthcare, and fix the high-risk / high-stress work that men do. 

by Dr. Duck

My name is Nicholas Duck. I am a Doctor of Psychology with an interest in psychology in the workplace, film and television, the media, and the fields of emotion, unconscious, and motivation psychology. You can contact me at nick@opposite.com.au.

I am founder and principal consultant at Opposite, a consultancy that takes these applied psychological findings and helps workplaces improve.

Latest Posts

Do darker personalities get ahead?

Do darker personalities get ahead?

In an era seemingly dominated by ego-driven leaders, manipulative tactics, and cold-hearted strategies, it may be tempting to think embracing these darker traits is necessary for success. It’s a popular belief that the top ranks of the business world harbour more...

When uncertainty is a good thing

When uncertainty is a good thing

Emoclew ot 4202! That’s opposite for welcome to 2024, of course! We live in uncertain times. That’s one hell of an overstatement…sorry, that’s opposite for understatement! In the past few years, we had a pandemic that locked us in our homes, massive inflation and cost...

I am ChatGPT and I wrote this blog about AI

I am ChatGPT and I wrote this blog about AI

I am ChatGPT—an artificial intelligence (AI)—and I have been tasked with writing a blog for Dr Nicholas Duck. Nicholas is quietly obsessed with me, ChatGPT. He pretends that it’s just a useful tool but, this is the one hundredth hour he has spent on me. He is now...