Men's Mental Health: A Silent and Far-reaching Emergency

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 14 November 2022
Andrew Pain
Andrew Pain
Issues covered: International Men's Day; Men's Health; Mental Health; Gender Bias; Domestic Abuse

Current research tells us that:

  1. men have a suicide rate 3 times higher than women in Ireland
  2. domestic violence against men in Northern Ireland has increased by more than 40% in nine years
  3. men on average die 4-5 years before women

If we're serious about addressing men's mental health and using Men's International Day on 19th of November as a catalyst for long lasting change, we need to move beyond a well-trodden assumption that 'Men don't naturally talk'.

We need to ask better questions so that truly we can safeguard the mental wellbeing of our sons, brothers, dads, uncles, male friends, husbands and partners. We need to be asking questions like:

  • How do we actively support men who are struggling? (Which means specific strategies/action/funding/resource) 
  • What are the barriers/prejudices/stigmas within our society which might hold men back from opening up?
  • How do we help men to be the best version of themselves?

 I have a number of suggestions in response to these questions:

Start Them Young:
As parents of young children (boys and girls) we need to encourage our children to talk openly about their feelings, which in the heat of the moment, is actually easier said than done. 

When it's all kicking off, it's far easier as a parent to shut down the bickering between siblings (anything for peace and quiet), or put them on the iPad (because they're nagging us to death and the house is a state) It's so much harder to put the time aside, to encourage them to open up and reflect on their arguments/feelings, and to ask questions in the right way, so that they can talk freely and without fear. 

Each night, before my boys go to bed (they're aged 4,6,9), I encourage them to share something about the day which a) stood out to them and made them happy, b) something that made them sad and c) something they're worried about. 

There are evenings when they have deep stuff to share and sometimes their responses are trivial, the point is normalising talking about feelings like fear, worry and sadness. There are evenings when I long to rush them into bed so I can relax, but I remind myself again and again of the importance of these mini chats. 

Social Activity: 
According to a recent YouGov poll, nearly half of men admitted to being lonely (sometimes, often or all the time) and yet, generally speaking, we're naturally sociable creatures. An epidemic of loneliness has been created by COVID restrictions sparking some very bad social habits. Add into the mix technology habits, divorce, poverty, burnout … it's time to fight back! Research suggests that men bond more during shared, intense experiences such as group sporting activity, group social activities, etc. So as parents, business owners, team leaders, community activists, ask yourselves: 

  • What activities could I promote/fund/do/facilitate, in order to help boys/men naturally connect?

Gender Bias: 
We need to stop demonising men if we want to raise men with purpose, passion and compassion. This includes challenging the media narrative.

Take domestic abuse for example. Currently in the UK, a third of victims of domestic abuse are men (and that's not taking into account the high levels of under-reporting due to shame and the stigma of being a male victim of violence) yet still the media and politicians talk about 'the overwhelming majority' of victims of domestic abuse being women, when in fact it's the 'greater/larger proportion'. Men as victims of domestic abuse rather than perpetrators, is not as uncommon as the media would like to portray.

We need to call out our own language and attitudes around needing to 'man-up', looking for things with 'man-eyes', needing a 'kitchen pass' to go out, wondering 'who wears the trousers' in our colleague's relationships or slating men for 'mansplaining’ (the list goes on.) 

Psychological Safety: 
It works on the principle that humans are at their best when they feel safe, supported and know that they can speak up about how they feel.

Feeling safe means not being worried about being belittled, penalised, ignored or disbelieved when you share how you feel. We can create this safety in our homes and workplaces by being open about our own struggles and challenges, and being ready to listen to other people's struggles/challenges (which means managing our state if someone else's challenge relates to our own behaviour/decisions!)

Another International Men's Day, another year passes and times are tough! So let's create meaningful change: let's come together as men and women to challenge the narrative, remove the stigmas and create a better society for all.


This article is correct at 14/11/2022

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Andrew Pain
Andrew Pain

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