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Nothing Hidden About It

There is a long way to go in reducing the stigma around men’s mental health 

Do a quick search of men’s mental health in a search engine and you’ll get a symphony of news reports, studies, and psychological publications over the past couple years singing headlines about a “silent” or “hidden” crisis. A third of Ontario high school students report experiencing moderate to serious levels of anxiety and depression, around a quarter of all deaths between the ages 15-24 are attributed to suicide, and men’s suicide and substance abuse rates are much higher than women. There is definitely a problem. 

However, the headlines, research, and worrying  statistics don’t seem to be particularly “silent” or “hidden” to me. A recent 2015 CAMH survey found that Canadians believed that awareness, issues with stigma, and general attitudes regarding mental health issues had improved over the past previous five years. If we know there is a problem and Canadians are more aware, why is there still a crisis happening when it comes to men’s mental health? 

Here’s what we know. Men, both youth and adult, are much less likely to seek out help or treatment even when they can recognize a problem and identify appropriate support. Negative reactions, perceived weakness, and fears of rejection from peers still persist as the main reasons men don’t seek out treatment. As far as we have come in reducing stigma related to mental health, there is obviously still a long way to go when it comes to men. The reality is that men would rather suffer alone than appear weak to their friends and family. What does this suffering look like? 

Men tend to express symptoms of mental health issues most often as aggression, violence and increased risk-taking behaviours. The big danger is that these are all things that are understood to be and often idealized ‘masculine’ behaviours. Just think how many times we cheer for the hot-tempered anti-hero with a drinking problem on the big and small screens. With idols like that, it should be no surprise to anyone that men are over-represented in reports of aggressive behaviour, accidents, violence-related injuries, substance abuse, suicide and criminal behaviour. These aren’t cases of “boys being boys” or “typical male behaviour”. It is the result of serious mental health problems going untreated. So how do we challenge the stigma of mental health among men and get them the treatment they need? 

More work needs to be done toward increasing awareness and reducing the ‘weakness’ stigma associated with mental health issues when it comes to men. We need to start recognizing behaviours like over-aggression, violence, alcoholism, substance abuse, and criminal behaviour as the visible symptoms of poor mental health and not merely socially acceptable male behaviour. We need men to start sharing their struggles and triumphs with mental health issues, especially with school-aged boys before heading into high school where we know there is a significant problem. We need to challenge men to open up with each other to become part of the solution, rather than continue to actively ignore the problem. Let’s stop the conversation about a “hidden crisis” and start talking about the difference between acceptable male behaviour and visible symptoms of mental health struggles. Let’s have men take ownership of the crisis and take an active role in putting an end to the stigma of weakness around mental health issues. 

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