Changing the conversation on men’s mental health

Published on 21/06/2024

With this article, we’re shining a spotlight on men’s mental health and the conversations that need to happen when helping men navigate challenging emotions.


Suicide is the single biggest killer among men aged under 45 in the UK. And this isn’t a standalone stat. Studies show that men experience increased rates of various mental health issues including substance use disorder and hyperactivity disorder, as well as lower rates of mental health service uptake.

Two men talking on bench outside

What is mental health?

We’ve used the Mental Health Foundation’s definition:


“We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Our mental health is how we’re feeling inside, or how we are emotionally. It’s a bit like internal weather.”


It’s normal for all of us to experience challenging emotions during our lifetime - turbulent times are part and parcel of living a full and varied life. But when it feels like it’s difficult to cope and thoughts become overwhelming, that could be a sign of poor mental health.

The current state of men’s mental health

The current mental health landscape isn’t a pretty picture. Men aged 40 to 49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK1. And despite this, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women: with only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies being for men2.


These stats point to a disconnect between how men feel, and how they express themselves.

Toxic masculinity is deeply rooted in our culture, often making men feel like they must be stoic, strong and in control. On top of these expectations, many men feel as though they are responsible for providing for their families. This is perhaps why employment context has been identified as a factor in
male suicide trends; those areas in England affected the most by recent unemployment experienced greater increases in suicide3.


Within these confines, it can be easy for men to feel like they have to keep challenging emotions to themselves for fear of appearing weak. All the while, feeling burdened with the pressure of providing, protecting and being a “good man”.


For many, this pressure is just too much. We need to shine a light on this blind spot and ignite conversations that allow men to express challenging emotions.

So how can we help?

We’re slowly working to shift the societal expectation of masculinity, taking the pressure off men and allowing them to open up. In the meantime, we can all help the men in our lives by being more present, aware and supportive in conversation. Whether that’s family members, our friendship groups, or colleagues, it’s always good to talk.

Here are some key ways we change the conversation:

Stay open and available: You never know when they might need you

While men are more likely to brush off any negative emotions, it’s always important to continue to ask the question “Are you okay?”. Whether it’s your friend, your brother or your colleague, asking them how they are doing and genuinely listening for an answer can help men open up.

Be present: Look for signs and signals that something isn’t right

Because men are less likely to express their feelings, we need to be more mindful when looking for signs of poor mental health. By flagging changes in behaviour like increased alcohol use, withdrawing from life or excessive anger, we can start the conversation earlier and help tackle the obstacles together.

Be a mental health advocate: Suggest the right kind of help

Advocacy means listening to people and allowing them to explore their options. You can help men in your relationships, at home and work by pointing them to resources and mental health services that can support them. A good place to start is their GP, followed by an employee assistance programme (EAP) or community mental health team.

 

With a Simplyhealth plan, our members have access to a 24/7 mental health support service, so there’s always someone on the other end of the line. The service can be accessed through a variety of channels, including WhatsApp, text and a phone call, so the barriers to making that first step are significantly reduced.

Be vulnerable: Share your stories

This one is especially true of male-to-male friendships. When men are vulnerable with one another it is one of the most courageous things they can do. Sharing your own struggles might help someone share theirs. Vulnerability is strong.

Sit side by side, not facing them

Numerous studies have established that men are more likely to define emotional closeness as side-by-side, while women often view it as talking face-to-face4. For this reason, sitting side by side is recommended. Try walking side by side, driving in the car or sitting in a coffee shop alongside each other. This can feel much more inviting and promote openness.

Two men talking on building site

Connection is key

By being more aware of the tips above, we can all be more available and open to conversations with men about their mental health.

Simplyhealth members get access to 24/7 mental health support, so there’s always someone available to talk.