Traditionally, more women than men have accessed psychological support, like talking therapy. Although we have started to see a shift in this imbalance, there are still so many people who identify as male (of all ages) who don’t feel able to reach out when they need support.

Does this mean that men struggle less than women?

No. The truth is that although women seem to access more psychological support, data tells us that men in the UK are struggling just as much – if not more in some circumstances. These difficulties could include anything from anxiety, self esteem issues, substance misuse, domestic violence, self harm, suicidal thoughts and much more.

Did you know…?

  • Three quarters of all adults reported missing are men
  • Men are nearly three times as likely to become dependent on alcohol than women
  • Men make up the majority of the UK prison population where there are high rates of mental health issues including self harm reported
  • Men are more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act than women
  • Men are three times more likely to die by suicide, with the highest suicide rates in the UK being men aged 40-49

Let’s look at how men are viewed in society

Women are stereotypically seen as emotional, nurturing, or compassionate. Whereas the words associated with men tend to be the opposite. Bold, strong, independent, or firm are often seen as masculine attributes.

While it isn’t everyone’s experience, males from a young age might be told that ‘boys don’t cry’, to ‘man up’ or to ‘be brave’. We know that some very early messages some boys hear are centred around not showing emotion.

We learn the emotional language that society gives us, which is problematic when we feel something that we can’t identify or that doesn’t feel acceptable to our gender. Some people believe that boys are more prone to feeling anger as it’s a more “acceptable” feeling and possibly a substitute for “less acceptable” feelings such as sadness and upset.

Kooth’s Head of Safeguarding, Dan Mills Da’Bell, says:

“Boys can sometimes end up with so much built up emotion that they haven’t been permitted to express or process, that it can end up exploding at a point of crisis, or come out some other unhealthy way. So they might not even realise they have an issue, because it’s suppressed and they mistake their symptoms, and learn not to get help because they don’t think there’s an issue. It’s the same as not getting medical help – males often delay or don’t get help at all when it could be life saving.”

Going into therapy…

Everybody’s experience is different, so we spoke to a group of men who were willing to share theirs. Here’s what they had to say.

‘I remember when I was younger, I was deemed to be the ‘problem child’ when in reality, I was actually bullied quite horrifically from a young age but didn’t get the support I needed. I was expelled from three schools in total and a college. After a few attempts of counselling over the years, I attempted it again as an adult. I felt safe within the first session of my most recent therapy experience and I would use the sessions as a space to offload, to rant, to reflect, to express my genuine emotions and work through years of difficulties. I worked with this counsellor for over 12 months and began to look forward to my sessions, excited for the space to feel safe, supported and held…getting me to a place where I felt able to meet new people, begin to build trust in people and trust that counselling actually worked.’ ~ P

 

“I first went into therapy, when I was 13. I wasn’t looking for anything particular but I was incredibly withdrawn and just plodding along. There are definitely barriers for males in general reaching out – I think it’s that whole idea of ‘big boys don’t cry’ and the term ‘man up’ which is so unhelpful as they are so loosely said without any second thought to how that could be internalised. Since having therapy myself, it has taken me a while to open up, and understand that communication is vital in any situation.” ~ J

 

“Men (in some cases) are sometimes prone to looking for a quick fix so long term therapy might initially feel a bit off putting. But, like any kind of exercise, therapy is something that needs to be worked on before you start to notice long-term results! There are moments of clarity when things suddenly seem to fall into place, but it can take some time to get to them, and they often come unexpectedly!” ~ T

 

“I feel there is a male bravado/machismo still present and this includes talking about feelings and emotions with a stranger. I am fortunate enough to be brought up around a family that did not prescribe to that sentiment, and the idea of counselling and therapy was not a worry for me. I think upbringing and surroundings are a key indicator to how someone might engage with therapy and support. I have accessed counselling on three separate occasions in my life. My most recent therapist was female, and I met her face to face, I felt this was extremely successful and since discharge I have been using techniques and models that were developed in those sessions.” ~ G

What to do if you need emotional support…

If you are concerned about your mental health, talking to your GP can be really helpful to find out what support might be on offer for you. Talking to your doctor might feel really daunting, but do remember that you are not alone and that many people take this first step.

If you are in crisis or feel at risk of harming yourself or somebody else, you can also call 999 or go to your local A&E where you will be supported and kept safe. The Samaritans is also a 24 hour crisis service that you can contact on 116123.

By Gemma Campbell