Help Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Male help-seeking behaviour

There is a growing body of evidence showing men are less likely to seek support from services for mental health than women. 

So the big question is, why?

  1. Denial

    Denial of emotions and low mental health literacy are commonly reported contributors to non–help seeking in men. Problems with interpreting, managing, and communicating distress can result in young men becoming caught in a vicious cycle of avoidance, often waiting until severely distressed before seeking help, if at all.

  2. Stigma

    Perceived stigma is one of the most frequently cited barriers to professional help seeking in research literature. Yet, there is a lack of research exploring how young men actually experience this stigma. Some studies have reported that young men have experienced discomfort, embarrassment, fear, and shame around asking for help but this does need to be explored more.

  3. Gender Socialisation

    Traditional gender roles where the man has to be strong, stoical and other macho ideals prevent asking for help. The fear of dependency and feelings of incompetency also contribute to non–help seeking.

  4. Attitudes

    Research on attitudes towards professional help seeking has revealed that young men whose families have stoic or negative attitudes toward mental health services are less likely to seek help. Previous negative experiences of professional help also has an effect, such as, a Doctor not listening, the wrong medication prescribed, insensitive staff or long waiting lists. Not believing professional help seeking is beneficial or will exacerbate problems is a major concern.

  5. Services

    Inadequate provision and lack of knowledge of services structurally prevent young men from seeking help. Young men have a greater need for confidentiality and often feel a loss of control about disclosing personal information. Trust that their vulnerability will be dealt with discreetly and with care is a major factor.

  6. Alternative Coping Mechanisms

    Young men use alternative coping mechanisms in an attempt to relieve emotional and physical pain. Alcohol, drugs, and aggressive behaviour are common outlets for young men in cultures that encourage masculine ideals of self-reliance and denial of emotions, which discourages young men from professional help seeking.

So what can we do to counteract this and encourage more men to seek professional help?

  • James O’Neil who developed the Gender Role Conflict theory believes educational programmes in schools for boys is the answer. These programmes would teach boys life skills, while also focusing on male strengths and potentials.

  • American researchers (Wester et al.) explored the role of social support in men seeking help for mental health problems and found it had a positive effect in most cases. Changing attitudes not just in men, but the people surrounding them, is key.

  • Targeted Services and for want of a better word, advertising. We are seeing this already with some excellent mental health campaigns, notably from CALM whose powerful video is below, but much more work needs to be done.

This powerful film gives a rare glimpse of what we rarely get to hear - the actual words of men who've gone through depression and suicidal thoughts. "The thing most likely to kill me is me." If you're a man under 45 and said this, you'd be right.

What do you think can be done to encourage men to seek help?