Mental Health Care for Men: Getting Past the Stigma

Credit: Getty Images
Some men have said that honest communication and community-based approaches make them more like to engage in mental health care.

As we uncover more about the effects of mental health conditions, we also learn in particular how different groups deal with them and approach treatment. For example, while women demonstrate a higher prevalence of mental illness, men are more likely to die from suicide and alcohol and drug abuse.¹

This statistic is often attributed to the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health struggles in men, which may be perceived as a threat to their masculinity. While strides have been made to encourage openness about mental health struggles, it is clear that more needs to be done to increase the number of men with psychiatric disorders who seek care.

In recent years, several studies examining male mental health care have been published. Some have looked at what factors make men more or less likely to accept treatment. Others investigated approaches to make men more likely to seek mental health care. Some attempted to challenge the narrative that men often won’t seek help. What has research shown about men’s willingness to seek care for their mental health struggles?

What Mental Health Interventions Do Men Prefer?

A 2023 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health examined a survey of Australian men to find insight into what makes them likely to disconnect or engage with mental health services.² While there are limitations to the study, it does shine light on the thought processes of men who are willing to pursue treatment and what may make them unwilling to continue that pursuit.

The researchers observed that many of the men disengaged from their mental health services due to what they perceived to be a lack of authenticity and professionalism. Some talked about feeling like they were not being listened to, while others were left without a health care professional after the one they were seeing had retired or moved without recommending replacement services. Many men also discussed the struggle of navigating the Australian health care system to find consistent and accessible services.

When asked what would make these men more likely to reengage in mental health services, many said they wanted more honest and transparent communication to try and create a better environment to feel understood and develop trust. Participants also said they would more strongly consider reengagement if there was an easier standard of reentry into the mental health care system.

Interestingly, despite the reputation for male stoicism in the face of mental health struggles, many men said that they had positive experiences with peer workers and community-based approaches. This included lived experience support groups – respondents claimed the social element made them feel more comfortable and connected to the process.

The notion of using communities to help with mental health has been floated in other recent studies. A 2022 paper in JMIR Formative Research, for example, examined the mental health support needs of young Black men, a demographic often overlooked and undertreated.³ In interviewing a number of Black males attending universities in the American Midwest, the researchers found that participants were interested in social media-based resources. Participants hoped to find a community of people who could relate to their unique experiences and struggles.

Mental Health After Relationships

Big life changes like the dissolution of an intimate relationship can be a trigger for patients with mental illness. A relationship breakup can lead to increased isolation and depression, so it is important in the realm of men’s mental health to examine if and how men seek out care in these circumstances. A 2022 review in Qualitative Health Research looked at the details of interviews with 47 men and their approaches to seeking help after a breakup, leading the researchers to conclude that more men are willing to engage in mental health services in these times than stereotypes would suggest.⁴

Of the interviewees, 24 of the 47 chose to engage in professional mental health care. Many men went not only on account of the dissolved relationship, but also because they realized they have  underlying mental health conditions that required management.

In addition, 12 participants mentioned actively engaging previous connections and reaching out in an effort to make new connections as part of their self-care. This included community and support groups for break-ups, allowing them to establish a focus on their mental health recovery. The other 11 interviewees were more limited in their approach, electing solitary care while also utilizing established connections. The researchers concluded that even with stereotypically masculine views on self-reliance, there is still interest among many men in seeking care for their mental health and evidence that they benefit from this care.

Advances in Male-Targeted Mental Health Care

A 2023 review in Frontiers in Psychology examined male-specific psychotherapy options, finding the potential for improving therapeutic adherence and effectiveness.⁵ Male-tailored psychoeducation for major depressive disorder, which involved gender-specific education on depressive symptoms and male ideologies, showed promise in reducing negative effects.

The review also examined newer community-based efforts, such as the James’ Place program in the United Kingdom. The service provided clinical interventions to suicidal men, and the researchers found the program effective at reducing suicidal thoughts and improving clinical outcomes. The researchers concluded that as research develops on traditional masculine ideologies, these more targeted interventions may help increase education on mental health in a way that can soften the stigmas that make many men reluctant to seek help.

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor

References:

1. Chatmon BN. Males and mental health stigma. Am J Mens Health. 2020 Jul-Aug;14(4):1557988320949322. doi: 10.1177/1557988320949322. PMID: 32812501; PMCID: PMC7444121.

2. Kwon M, Lawn S, Kaine C. Understanding men’s engagement and disengagement when seeking support for mental health. Am J Mens Health. 2023 Mar-Apr;17(2):15579883231157971. doi: 10.1177/15579883231157971. PMID: 36880329; PMCID: PMC9996733.

3. Williams KDA, Wijaya C, Stamatis CA, Abbott G, Lattie EG. Insights into needs and preferences for mental health support on social media and through mobile apps among Black male university students: exploratory qualitative study. JMIR Form Res. 2022 Aug 31;6(8):e38716. doi: 10.2196/38716. PMID: 36044261; PMCID: PMC9475414.

4. Oliffe JL, Kelly MT, Gonzalez Montaner G, Seidler ZE, Kealy D, Ogrodniczuk JS, Rice SM. Mapping men’s mental health help-seeking after an intimate partner relationship break-up. Qual Health Res. 2022 Aug;32(10):1464-1476. doi: 10.1177/10497323221110974. Epub 2022 Jun 25. PMID: 35758178; PMCID: PMC9411703.

5. Eggenberger L, Ehlert U, Walther A. New directions in male-tailored psychotherapy for depression. Front Psychol. 2023 Apr 18;14:1146078. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1146078. PMID: 37143589; PMCID: PMC10151934.