It’s never been easy to speak out about poor mental health – no-one wants to thought of as crazy, and society hasn’t always been kind to the mentally ill. But we’ve come a long way since the days of Bedlam – so why is it still so difficult to discuss male mental health?
It’s an issue in desperate need of attention. As unbelievable as it may seem, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, beating heart disease, cancer, even accidental death – and men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. This is despite the fact that statistics show women are more likely to suffer from depression and mental health problems – so what’s going on?
Over the last decade, there’s been a huge push in terms of getting feminist issues exposure, and understandably. But sexism and traditional gender constructs don’t just affect women. Research from Samaritans suggests that the pressure for men to be ‘real men’ and maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ is directly linked to the staggeringly high male suicide rate. Not only are men less likely to seek help from a doctor, they’re less likely to confide their problems in their friends – in fact, a 2014 YouGov survey found that 1 in 8 UK males have no friends they felt able to confide a serious problem in.
It is believed this is linked to the particularly high suicide rate for middle-aged men – men tend to overly rely on their partners for support, while women have more diverse social groups. Relationship breakdown, therefore, hits men particularly hard, and while women may seek help if they’re experiencing suicidal ideation, it seems that men are self-medicating – male levels of alcoholism and drug abuse are also three times as high as those of females. So what can be done to break the cycle?
At the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute, we believe in the core role of charities and foundations in tackling the mental health crisis – charities could provide men with free, anonymous help and support, when then may feel unable to confide in someone they know. We were founded by a tech philanthropist (Mr Tej Kohli, net worth approx. £4.5 billion) with a vision of using his wealth to change the world for the better – we’ve since treated the eyes of almost 60,000 people. If similar philanthropists were to turn their attention towards spotlighting the issue of men’s health, who knows what help could be provided.
Clearly, society’s attitude towards traditional male roles needs to change, to lessen the unbearable burden on men, and we all have a role to play in that. And simply talking about an issue goes a long way towards destigmatising it – and the more we talk, the more funding will be allocated towards dealing with it, the more charities will begin to pay attention to it, and the more men will be helped. So don’t be afraid to discuss the men’s mental health crisis – because that truly is the first step towards getting men help.