One in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety during their lives. Men comprise approximately 75% of suicides in Australia. The number of men who die of suicide in Australia is nearly double the national road toll. Deaths due to alcohol abuse-related causes are almost double that of females.

Australian men have lower rates of mental health literacy and face numerous barriers accessing help for these issues.

A tragic confluence of low rates of diagnosed depression, high rates of suicide, and poor engagement with mental health services lead to a complex interplay of factors that need to be considered to help men overcome the burden of mental illness.

Dr Davinder Hans, Psychiatrist

Dr Davinder Hans, Psychiatrist

Firstly, identification of mental illnesses in men is difficult due to how males express emotional discord. Particularly in the early stages, depression in men often manifests as irritability, anger, aggressiveness and risk-taking behaviour. These features can mask more typical symptoms of depression (tearfulness, sustained low mood, changes in appetite, reduction of interest in leisure).

Secondly is a misconception of socially prescribed rules about masculinity and ‘what it means to be a man’. Some men place their sense of self-worth into external indicators of success (e.g. career, financial achievements), leading to an unhealthy level of competitiveness and sacrifice their own mental health needs, whilst chasing an illusion of success.

This leads to an ever-shifting ideal which is impossible to achieve, thereby creating a sense of failure further compounding the inability to express underlying feelings of anxiety or distress.

Seeking help is the third issue. Men tend to be more reluctant to accept help especially for mental health concerns. Fear of social stigma related to mental health issues is the most prominent factor leading many men avoiding mental health services or even researching their options for support.

One approach to these issues is to promote change in the ways that men think about mental illness itself. Efforts to break down stigma by organisations such as Beyond Blue has improved mental health literacy amongst Australian men.

A second approach involves changing traditional concepts about how help-seeking is perceived. Rather than a sign of weakness, and therefore something to avoid, we ought to flip things around positioning help-seeking as a show of strength, involving taking back control of one’s situation and improving one’s life by getting things back on track.

These conversations and mindsets can normalise the connections and engagements we know encourage positive mental health outcomes in men.

We are changing the language used in discussions about mental health. Terms like ‘mental fitness’ instead of ‘mental illness’, and ‘struggling with or battling against pressures’, instead of ‘feeling sad or depressed’, can reduce some of the difficulties which traditionally exist in these discussions. This can lead to more open discussions about mental health difficulties and improve men’s access to mental health supports.

Key messages

  • Mental health in males presents unique challenges
  • We need to change the way men think about mental health
  • Better understanding leads to better outcomes

References available on request.

Questions? Contact the editor.

Author competing interests: None to disclose.

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