It is often said that many men are pretty useless at seeing their doctor when something is wrong, preferring to bury their heads in the sand and ignore a problem than confront it head-on. This is perhaps as true, if not more so, when their symptoms are psychological rather than physical.
Why do men put off seeing a doctor?
Maybe this is a hangover from a time when men were expected to keep a stiff upper lip, to stoically bury their emotions and carry on regardless. After all, we are often told to ‘man up’, to ‘grow a pair’, and to ‘stop being such a wimp’ about this or that, and any sign of physical or emotional weakness is often dismissed or outright mocked.
Men's mental health - the statistics
In such a climate, is it any wonder that men often prefer to keep their problems to themselves rather than seek the help they may desperately need? Mental health diagnoses are more common among women, and while 29% of women have been treated for a mental health problem, the figure is only 17% for men1. A quarter of women suffer from depression, compared to only one in ten men, and women are twice as likely to experience anxiety.
And yet, looking at some other statistics gives pause for thought: men are far more likely to suffer from drug or alcohol addictions than women, with 80% of alcohol dependent people in Britain being male, three quarters of cannabis users, and 69% of people dependent on other drugs2.
Furthermore, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50, representing 76% of all suicides in the country, and it is increasingly being recognised that self-harm and eating disorders are not exclusively ‘girl things’, and may be as common among boys and young men as women3.
Given these facts, it’s quite possible that the imbalance in mental health diagnoses between the sexes is due to men simply underreporting symptoms, as many now recognise, and that suicide rates and drug and alcohol abuse figures show that men are suffering – they’re just doing it in silence far too often.
In case you hadn’t noticed, every November for the last 11 years or so, increasing numbers of men have been adorning their faces with that most controversial of statements a man can make with his top lip – the moustache.
The idea for Movember, born in Australia, was to encourage men to ‘grow a mo’ for the duration of the month to raise awareness and money for men’s health charities. Over the years the focus has been on male-specific cancers – prostate and testicular, among others – but the movement has now widened its focus to include men’s mental health too4.
"It's the last piece of the puzzle," Justin Coughlan, co-founder of the organisation, told the BBC, “It's just so big and there's such a need for it"5. Movember’s aim is to invest in projects that will break down the stigma that surrounds mental health problems for men, to let men know that it’s ok to talk about their feelings and to seek help when they need it.
The Movember website states they seek to ensure that:
• Men and boys are mentally healthy and take action to remain so
• When men and boys experience mental health problems they take action early
• Men and boys with mental health problems are not discriminated against6
From the proceeds of this month’s efforts, the organisation hopes that at least £2.5 million will be raised, which has to be worth looking like a bit of a wannabe hipster7 for a few weeks, surely? And perhaps herein lies part of Movember’s success – its light-hearted approach. It doesn’t present an image of doom and gloom; while it may acknowledge the seriousness of the issues it tackles, it tackles them with a degree of humour. It encourages people to have a laugh, which must surely be a good recruiting tool.
It is a sign of how far the mighty mo has fallen that, where in their heyday British Army uniform regulations made the wearing of moustaches compulsory for all serving soldiers, now they can be an object of fun – be it an ironic veneration of a notion of manhood that went out with the ‘70s or a competition with your mates to see who can cultivate the most outlandish – whatever the reason, at least they return once a year for a good cause!
1. Singleton N & Lewis G (2003) Better Or Worse: A Longitudinal Study Of The Mental Health Of Adults In Great Britain [online]. London: TSO. Available at: file:///C:/Users/michaelb/Downloads/PMA-AdultFollowup_tcm77-144480.pdf (accessed November 2014)
2. Mental Health Foundation (2014) Mental Health Statistics: Men and women [online]. Available at: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/men-women/ (accessed November 2014)
3. Self-harm.co.uk (2014) The Myths: Only girls do it [online]. Available at: http://selfharm.co.uk/get/myths/only_girls_do_it (accessed November 2014)
4. BBC (2014) Movember founder: Men can end up 'mentally broken' [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29841063 (accessed November 2014)
6. Movember (2014) About Movember [online]. Available at: http://uk.movember.com/about/vision-goals (accessed November 2014)
7. The views expressed are those of the author, who apologises to anyone who wears a moustache all year round – his views in this regard do not reflect those of Pavilion Publishing and Media.
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