In a report by the IPSOS MORI commissioned by Movember – Over a fifth (22%) of men say they are unlikely to speak with someone if they were having problems they were finding hard to cope with. 41% of men say they have regretted opening up to someone about their problems, and over half of these men (53%) say that this experience would prevent them from opening up again.

Men often experience self-stigma and social stigma when it comes to expressing their emotions or discussing their mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, or stress. This self-stigma is a result of the unconscious masculine ideals that have been culturally ingrained and socialised into their self-perception and identity as men. 

Why Men Internalise Mental Health

Men have historically internalised their mental health struggles. However, this does not mean that they don’t also struggle with their mental health. Poor mental health can affect anyone regardless of their gender, race, or societal status. The following are some common causes behind men’s reluctance to discuss mental health.

Societal Expectations and Traditional Gender Roles

As a society, we haven’t encouraged men to tune into their sensitive side; in many cases, they have been discouraged from showing emotion. 

Girls are taught how to regulate and express their emotions from a young age, while boys are given less grace to explore their feelings. They are told that boys don’t cry, they are picked on for being sensitive, and more emotional boys are less likely to be tolerated. Unsurprisingly, these young boys grow up to become men who have not been taught to navigate and discuss their feelings.

The societal expectations of what masculinity is have conditioned men to believe that they need to be strong, self-sufficient, action-oriented, and in complete control. When faced with mental health issues, men then struggle to cope with these issues as it causes them to view themselves as weak for needing help.

The pressures of traditional gender roles and societal stigma have demotivated men and made them more reluctant to seek professional mental health services or even share their emotional distress with their friends and family.

Does Race Play a Factor in Men’s Mental Health?

These issues above affect men’s mental health and are essential aspects to consider. However, we must also acknowledge Racism as a severe mental health issue that could result in trauma, lower self-worth, hopelessness, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, and depression for our men of colour. 

For Black men, in particular, the economic, health, and educational disparities coupled with racism and social injustice have created a society where Black men often don’t feel like their lives are valued. How, then, can they believe that their thoughts or feelings are valid?

Mental health matters among Black men, but they don’t receive the same level of support as their white colleagues. Their mental health concerns are typically more complex due to structural racism, their unique history within the workforce, and other factors such as poverty rates and lower access to psychological services. 

An article by the Mental Health Foundation states,

While these statistics and figures are important to note, they only give us a snapshot of the reality of the state of mental health among men. 

The Journey to Mental Wellness is Hard

The path to mental wellness isn’t easy, especially for someone who isn’t comfortable opening up about their struggles. 

The first step to being able to open up about your mental health struggles is acknowledging that you have a problem. However, considering that Over a fifth (22%) of men say they are unlikely to speak with someone if they are having problems. What can we do to support and encourage men to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health but also to feel empowered to seek help before things get too challenging? 

Men’s Mental Health at Work

The mental health of an individual can have significant effects, not only in their personal life but also at work. It can influence crucial factors such as employee motivation, productivity, and performance. Although various personal factors can affect one’s mental state, the workplace environment can be a significant trigger.

Whether they’re at work or home, distress in men can often show up in behaviours such as:

  • Distractions – can include binge-watching shows, excessive device usage or video gaming, spending too much time at work, or over-investing in work. Symptoms include diminished work performance, difficulty concentrating, and incomplete tasks.
  • Escaping – behaviours may include more frequent and heavier drinking, binge eating, and overindulging in activities.
  • Withdrawal signs may include eating alone, avoiding social contact with friends and family, taking sick days, and not joining team activities.
  • Externalisation: Low impulse control, high irritability, snapping at and getting frustrated with colleagues, showing anger, and portraying anti-social behaviours towards others.

Here are some ways to foster a psychologically safe environment:

  • Encourage your organisation to take part in race awareness training and unconscious biases. 
  • Avoid using terms that could be triggering, and use language with a more positive undertone. Instead of saying, “handling depression and sadness” or “dealing with stress,” you could say, “recovering from burnout” or “developing mental fitness, resilience, and strength.”
  • Support men’s events such as International Men’s Day and Movember.
  • Male managers and CEOs should give talks about their mental health to challenge outdated stereotypes about the male role in the workplace.
  • Talk openly and frequently about mental health in the workplace, including at staff meetings and newsletters, while providing confidential support.
  • Educate all employees on maintaining their mental health and developing helpful coping strategies — outsource experts to deliver mental health awareness programmes to help facilitate this.
  • Create an open-door policy for confidential chats between employees and managers about stress, overload, burnout and other issues to increase accessibility.
  • Provide compassionate support for employees who have endured trauma, grief, or other difficulties, such as paid time off and access to professional assistance.
  • Train managers to identify signs of distress in employees, recognising that it can manifest differently in men and women.
  • It is essential to regularly assess employees’ mental health and well-being through surveys and confidential check-ins.

Creating a work environment where men feel comfortable sharing their mental health struggles can be a difficult task. However, taking the time to understand why they might be hesitant to discuss these issues is an essential first step in building spaces where they can feel psychologically safe.