The Trouble With Men’s Health

This document doesn’t make wild generalisations about “all men”. It doesn’t bleat about the need for equality and diversity beyond what is fair and just. Nor does it attempt to turn boys into girls. Rather, this is a report that proceeds by reason and evidence to argue that men as a sex face specific emotional and mental difficulties that society commonly misunderstands.

The facts are stark. Being male increases your chances of drug and alcohol dependency, school failure, suicide and involvement in crime. Almost three quarters of people who kill themselves are men. Most adults who go missing are men. Most prisoners are men. Most men in prison suffer from at least one mental disorder. Most of the people detained in secure mental institutions are men. Three quarters of rough sleepers are men. Men are responsible for 87% of crimes of violence. Nearly all children permanently excluded from school are male. And boys are performing less well than girls at almost every single level of education.

Some of these problems result from what I described in my 1984 BBC book, Men, an investigation into the emotional male, as the “fall of the male chauvinist empire”. It has indeed been difficult for 21st century men to adapt to a world where their natural anxieties are no longer masked by the universal subservience of women. Nor have they adjusted well to an economy that ignores brute strength in favour of brains and the utility of emotional intelligence.

As the report concludes, we must urgently look beyond masculine stereotypes to understand the mental health needs of contemporary males. To take just one example, consider the notion of ‘depression and self-harm’. Such an image probably conjures up the picture of a teenage girl cutting her arms or suffering from an eating disorder. But if I reflect on ‘self-harm’ in a different context, I can soon call to mind male public figures who have wound up in prison, lost jobs due to drink problems or forfeited the public’s respect as a consequence of risky sexual behaviour. In my opinion these kinds of behaviours often qualify as explicitly ‘self-harming’ activity.

Most of these formerly respected figures might deny they’d had a mental health problem. All of them have been able to function – with some help – in their respective roles. Yet all have come to grief for reasons which we might conclude are depressive if not depressing. The plausible bottom line is that whereas women tend to confess to feelings of depression, and hence are labelled the “more depressed sex”, men routinely deny their problems so you can mainly detect men’s symptoms from their self-harming acts,not their testimony.

I believe that the balance of the national depression statistics would be very much altered if we took note of men’s greater problems with alcohol, drug dependency, overstress, workaholism and road rage. Otherwise, it surely remains difficult to explain why men are half as likely as women to be diagnosed with depression yet three times more likely to kill themselves because of it.

PHILLIP HODSON

Phillip Hodson FRSA – Chief Spokesperson, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy [www.bacp.co.uk] and for ten years has been its Chief Spokesperson. He has worked as a psychotherapist and sex and relationship therapist for nearly 30 years specialising in the problems of men and couples. He introduced radio counselling to Britain on LBC radio who then asked him to work seven days a week. He declined. His original book on the problems of men and emotions was almost the first to appear on the subject – and consequently had to be placed in the “Women’s” section in Waterstone’s.

Untold problems: a review of the essential issues in the mental health of men and boys
COMMISSIONED BY THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE MENTAL HEALTH UNIT DEPT OF HEALTH
AND MEN’S HEALTH FORUM JANUARY 2010

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