Why don’t men seek help for physical and mental health problems?
And just as importantly, what can we do to help them?
Let me tell you a few sad facts about my fellow men:
- We die approximately 4 years younger than our female friends and family members
- We take our own lives 3 times as often as women
- Men consume more alcohol; a behaviour associated with numerous physical and mental health problems
- Men are more likely to be “at fault” in motor vehicle accidents; and significantly more likely to die in serious crashes
- And men report more serious health conditions than women
What’s even more concerning is that despite these higher rates of ill health, men seek professional assistance significantly less often. Accordingly, when they do experience health problems, which they obviously do, they suffer more and for longer due to delays in accessing what in many cases might be effective treatment options.
The good news, however, is that numerous studies have shed some light on why men behave in this way. And in short, the following themes have emerged from the research:
- Men tend to seek their support indirectly. So, they’re more likely to go to female partners or friends (and much less likely to talk to male friends or even professionals)
- Men tend to be more concerned about how they’ll be perceived if seen to be seeking help; and these concerns frequently lead to denial and avoidance
- Men’s roles have traditionally been defined in ways that include control and immortality. Imperfection and vulnerability, therefore, are unacceptable for many men
- And finally, systemic barriers can make help seeking difficult. Because more men have traditionally worked, finding time to make an appointment with a health provider might not be as easy as it could be
Understanding these causal or contributing factors leads, then, to a number of potentially useful solutions; things we can all do to help the men in our lives get the help they need and accordingly, live healthier, happier and longer lives.
With this in mind, here are my top tips:
- If you are someone in whom he confides, then accept this and be prepared for any hints he may give about struggling in any areas of his life
- To begin with, just listen; carefully, compassionately and without judgement
- Not judging is particularly important given the finding noted earlier, that men are often sensitive to being judged as incompetent or out of control in any way
- The use of metaphors can be very helpful. Just like, for example, you or they might take their car in for a service at regular intervals; so too can it be very helpful to take oneself in for a “service” or check up every now and then (and ideally, sooner rather than later). Along similar lines, we all know that if we don’t recharge our smartphones each night they’ll run out of batter and not function. In the same way, we need to find ways to re-charge which is just another way of saying we need to take care of ourselves (physically and mentally)
- Use the aforementioned “control” issue in a useful way. Suggest a few options for him to consider and then invite him to choose which one might be best or most appropriate
- And finally, if there are any practical ways you can help organise convenient times, or with transport to and from appointments, then clearly that would be useful
We will all benefit from a population of healthier and happier men; so, let’s all pitch in and do what we can to help the men in our lives get the help they need.
Explore Dr. Happy's new podcast - Be A Man
"For generations, we've been raised to believe that to 'be a man' we must be strong, brave and stoic but the stereotype is stopping us from asking for help. Now, it's time to redefine our own perception of masculinity. Join Gus Worland (Triple M Grill Team co-host ) and Dr Tim Sharp (The Happiness Institute) as they explore topics including health, career, women, sexuality, social media and the taboos surrounding mental health. Season One of Be A Man is available from May 8, 2018 ."