Content Warning: Mention of substance abuse, anorexia, suicide
On Monday 19th November, the Feminist Society and Mind The Gap collaborated on a ‘Men’s Mental Health Discussion’ to mark International Men’s Day. The discussion included statistics and information about men’s mental health and its differences from women’s mental health reporting.
Statistics suggest that less men are diagnosed with mental health disorders than women. However, these do not consider the idea that mental illness is just as prevalent in men, but less men seek diagnoses and support from medical professionals. The discussion, led by myself and Charlotte White, encouraged attendees to talk about their own experiences with mental health. One attendee brought up the issue of class in regards to the statistics suggesting that men are more likely to use substance abuse as a way to cope with mental illness (Source: Health and Social Care Information Centre). He suggested that working class men are disadvantaged by a lack of education and access to resources to deal with mental illness, and so turn to more accessible and cheaper methods of coping, such as alcohol and drugs.
The discussion, which was attended by around 20 people, explored the idea of stigma around men seeking help for mental health problems. Many mental illnesses are seen to be feminine in representation of them. For example, social anxiety is often associated with women and it can be seen as more of a weakness for a man to experience this. This contributes to the difficulties for men in opening up, and likely impacts the shocking suicide rates for men. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 and around 76% of suicides are by men (Source: Men’s Health Forum). Attendees debated whether these rates correspond to a male way of coping by seeking ‘quick fixes’ to problems, rather than working through them via professional help.
Men’s body image was also discussed, particularly in relation to eating disorders such as anorexia. Studies suggest that a quarter of people suffering from an eating disorder are male (Source: Beat). This is another often feminised disorder, with most media portrayals of people with anorexia feature women. Attendees argued that men experience pressures to look particular ways just like women do, and that this has a negative impact on their mental health. It was suggested that men are less likely to seek help for eating disorders than women and that when they do, many of the language used to discuss the eating disorder is heavily gendered. People in the audience talked of experiences of being judged for their body image and weight from ages as young as 13, highlighting how young people are internalising these damaging ideas about body expectations.
The concept of emotional labour was also explored, with several people noting how they had male friends who would rely on them for emotional support and mental health advice. Various men in the room agreed that they found it easier to talk to women about their emotions than their male friends, showing how mental health is often a taboo topic in male friendship circles. This fed into discussion about emotional vulnerability and the struggles of finding ways to cope when you feel unable to talk to people about your mental health difficulties. The phrase “man up” was talked about and its damaging effects on men as it encourages men to repress their feelings, which often leads to more extreme damage.
The discussion ended by thinking about the idea of self-care boxes; subscription services offering monthly boxes filled with comforting items such as slipper socks and colouring books. Online there have been complaints made against Blurt, a company that provides self-care boxes, with men asking for a ‘men’s self-care box’ as they feel uncomfortable with the items included in Blurt’s boxes. Various ideas of non-gendered self-care activities were brought forward, including practicing meditation and breathing exercises or enjoying small things such as listening to favourite music or reading a familiar book. The discussion overall was insightful, with many attendees sharing their personal experiences with mental health. Events like this are important to ensure that men’s mental health is not pushed aside and to ensure that there are safe spaces to disclose personal information.