In an ideal society, no one suffering from mental illness would ever feel unsupported or abandoned, especially considering the fact that one quarter of us will experience a mental health problem every year. However, the realities of our 21st-century situation raised the issue of men’s mental health at the ‘Introduction to Men’s Mental Health’ talk as part of the Student Association’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Week.
The inclusive discussion explored the responsibility of media misrepresentation in creating a stigma surrounding male mental illness. From an early age, we are taught to define things as either male or female, even everyday objects such as toys and clothes. Mental illness is no different.
Cultural stereotypes of male mental illness tend to depict a more psychotic and threatening nature, while women are commonly associated with eating or mood disorders. Consequently, men who experience mental illness of any kind are often branded as dangerous. The negative effects of this perception manifest in men’s reluctance to seek help. In 2011/2012, twice as many women than men went to their GP because of depression or anxiety, but for men, the fear of being thought of as a ‘mental lunatic’ is shown to dominate over any vital need for assistance.
Whilst the highlighting of certain mental illnesses is important in raising awareness, it is equally important to maintain awareness of the variety of other mental health problems that affect many people’s daily lives. Those illnesses more common among men than women can often be overlooked as less important.
Whilst many mental health problems are not immediately life-threatening, they can cause those suffering to struggle on a daily basis. Raising and maintaining awareness of the variety of mental health problems out there is just one way to help with lessening stigmatisation.
Men themselves were also identified as a source of the stigma surrounding male mental illness. Speakers Charlotte Lemaigre and John Murphy observed that men do not tend to talk openly about the subject compared to women. Out of fear, shame or several other reasons, men can unconsciously create a taboo subject amongst themselves. Often they would rather suffer in silence than be the one to talk about depression. This attitude is reflected in disproportionately higher male suicide rates.
Suffering from mental health issues is legally considered a disability, and those who are afflicted are protected as such under the Equality Act of 2010. Perhaps as a result, the percentage of sufferers who said that they had experienced stigma or discrimination at some point in the last five years decreased by 24 per cent between 2007 and 2009. This increasing understanding of mental health can be credited to charities and government campaigns, such as Time to Change and Mind. These movements help to break down the barrier surrounding mental health by identifying ways we can all better support sufferers. Examples include providing mental health first aid and improving awareness about support.
The qualitative evidence and Scottish statistics on male suicide justify the immediacy of the problem when it comes to stigmatisationof men’s mental illness. Societal pressure for men to constantly present a front of strength often provokes negative, reactionary retorts in response to displays of emotion such as the damaging catch-all phrase “man up”.
Speaker John Murphy concluded that we need to get more men talking about mental illness and identify ways in which we can all support men’s mental health. The idea that mental illness is something that is happening to ‘someone else but not me’ is all too common. All in all, whilst mental health problems can often be stigmatised, events like this certainly help to heighten awareness, and ultimately work towards lowering such stigmatisation.