Mental health issues affect millions of men, yet men are less likely than women to get treatment. Why? There is a powerful mental health stigma in males (meaning anyone who identifies as male) that makes it hard to discuss mental health and ask for support. Even as we learn more about these conditions and effective ways to treat them, men’s mental health stigma persists.
It can be hard to open up about male mental health issues, but silence doesn’t mean men aren’t suffering. Consider these men’s mental health facts:
Addressing mental health stigma in males can help men get the treatment they need to have a better quality of life.
What disorders most commonly affect men? A few diagnoses top the list.
Depression: While women experiencing depression tend to feel and show sadness, men with depression may have symptoms like aggression, irritability, or disinterest in work or hobbies. They’re also more likely to seek help for physical symptoms such as aches and pains rather than emotional concerns.
Substance use disorders: Men may use drugs or alcohol to cope with feelings they can’t express in other ways. Men are almost twice as likely as women to binge drink, with 7 percent having alcohol use disorder compared to 4 percent of women. Men are also more likely than women to use illicit drugs, which contributes to more emergency department visits and overdose deaths for men than women.
Anxiety: Men with anxiety often go undiagnosed because their symptoms get overlooked. Instead of worry or nervousness, men with anxiety may become angry or irritable or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Men more often seek help for physical symptoms like high blood pressure, insomnia, and headaches than for symptoms such as irritability or trouble concentrating.
Schizophrenia: Not only are men potentially more likely to develop this condition, they’re likely to experience an earlier onset, lower social functioning, and higher levels of co-occurring substance use than women.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Males are commonly diagnosed with ADHD. Common ADHD symptoms like inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can make everyday life more challenging. Because this disorder is typically diagnosed in childhood, adult men with ADHD who were never diagnosed may have trouble identifying the root of their problems.
Why aren’t more men talking about mental health? Men’s mental health stigma blocks many people from talking about their feelings and experiences. So, what causes this stigma, and why is men’s mental health overlooked? Here are a few factors:
Men’s mental health and masculinity – The stigma of male mental health is fueled by gender norms, social taboos, and outdated ideas of what it means to be a man. Unhelpful stereotypes about masculinity send a message that men are supposed to be strong, self-sufficient, and unemotional. This perspective incorrectly portrays men’s mental illness as a sign of weakness or lack of personal fortitude. Men who adhere to traditional notions of masculinity are more likely to have heightened stress, depression, and other psychological issues, and are less likely to get treatment.
Lack of awareness – Since mental health in men can look different than it does for other genders, it can be hard for family, friends, and even health care professionals to know there’s a treatable problem. Men might not recognize they need help because their symptoms aren’t “that bad” or may not believe treatment can help. They may feel that asking for support is a burden for others or worry that they’ll be judged for doing so.
Need for reciprocity – To counteract the feeling of weakness that some men associate with asking for mental health support, men may be more likely to accept help when they can reciprocate, or help another person in return. For example, a man may seek out mental health support if he feels it would benefit his loved ones or friends, or if he can solve a problem in return.
Addressing mental health in men is crucial because the effects of untreated conditions—risky behaviors, substance use disorders, trouble sleeping, problems with interpersonal relationships—can chip away at men’s health, personal life, and workplace performance.
As a result of men’s mental health stigma, men may be less likely to seek help, use appropriate medications to manage their condition, and stick to a treatment plan. Untreated mental illness increases the risk for suicide, financial instability, homelessness, and incarceration. Delaying treatment can make symptoms worse and increase mortality rates.
A rise in health care costs can also accompany psychological distress. Men’s mental illness may affect their physical health, raising the risk of heart disease, chronic conditions like diabetes and lung disease, and even a shortened lifespan.
Perhaps one of the most damaging effects of mental health stigma in males is the social isolation and rejection that can come with it. Others may have misconceptions about mental illness, such as the belief that people with these conditions are somehow flawed or dangerous. As a result of unfair judgment or embarrassment, men may pull away from people they care about. In a vicious loop, these effects can worsen mental health in men.
Given the high stakes, it’s critical for workplaces, families, and societies to proactively take steps to combat the stigma of men’s mental health.
Because men tend to experience mental health symptoms differently than women, they may not realize they have a problem. If they don’t know, they won’t seek treatment, so it’s important for men and the people who love them to learn the signs of men’s mental illness. These can include:
Friends, family, and co-workers can be a critical support network for men with mental health conditions. Here are a few ideas for how to support men’s mental health:
Most people spend a lot of time at work, so support (or lack thereof) for employee mental health can make a big impact. If you’re a manager or leader, there are things you can do to help reduce mental health stigma in males, which leads to healthier, more productive teams.
Encourage men talking about mental health. Be a nonjudgmental listener when others share their struggles and encourage ongoing self-care such as talking with a friend or taking a break to get outside. Company leaders, especially male executives, can set a healthy example by discussing their own stresses and anxieties, talking about how they’re managing them, and encouraging other men to talk about mental health.
Use gender-responsive language. When you communicate about mental health, use language that is likely to resonate with the men in your workforce. For example, men may respond more positively to programs that emphasize self-help, coaching, and skill-building rather than therapy or mental health treatment.
Provide mental health benefits. Historically, companies with a higher percentage of female employees were more likely to offer wellness programs than companies with mostly male workers. Recognizing the high price men pay for this disparity, many companies are now making mental health in men a priority.
A comprehensive mental health benefit like Lyra Health breaks down barriers to care, including men’s mental health stigma. It also increases access to high-quality care by providing quick, easy options for therapy and mental health coaching, both in person and through online telehealth sessions. Since men may not feel comfortable asking for help publicly, make sure your benefit includes self-care programs that can be accessed without consulting managers or peers, as well as easy access to higher levels of care for those who need them.
Build a culture of mental wellness at work. Supporting mental health in the workplace is also about how you shape your company culture. Offering mental health benefits helps employees get the care they need to feel their best. Your benefit should also include broader, organization-level tools to create a psychologically safe work environment. For example, education and training can help build men’s mental health awareness, so the men in your workforce know the signs that they need help. Research has shown that when managers receive even a modest amount of training, it makes a positive impact at work.
Understand different needs. Not all men experience the same stressors. Black men, for example, have much of the same work-related stress as their white peers, but they also face race-related stressors. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique worries and need personalized support, too. To meet these needs, your benefit vendor’s network should include mental health providers of different backgrounds who are trained in culturally responsive care.
Learn about mental health. Mental health issues can affect anyone. Much like common physical ailments, they are illnesses with well-researched, effective treatments, especially if addressed early on. Get educated so you can raise your own men’s mental health awareness and know the signs that a loved one may need more support.
Talk about it. Share what you’re learning about mental health and the experiences you or others have had with it. This fosters empathy and combats isolation, which can fuel men’s mental illness. Remind your loved one that asking for help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness.
Schedule an appointment. Encourage your loved one to talk to a primary care doctor or mental health specialist to see if there’s a treatment that can help them feel better.
Get support for yourself. A loved one’s mental health condition can affect you in many ways. Finding a peer support group or talking to a mental health provider can improve your well-being and put you in the best position to help your loved one. Doing so also models that it’s OK to get support, which can help reduce mental health stigma in males.
The stakes are high for men with mental health conditions. Their physical health, job performance, relationships, and even their lives can be at risk if they don’t get the help they need. Breaking the stigma around men and mental health is an important step in making sure men feel empowered to reach out for support.