Today marks "Men's Mental Health Awareness" day in Canada and although the gender gap amongst individuals with mental illness has narrowed, the overall stigma associated with mental health remains, especially amongst males. Statistics Canada completed a Community Health Survey on Mental Health and found that 10% of men reported experiencing symptoms associated with mental health concerns and/or substance abuse. This is only one percent less than that of the female population (11% reported mental health concerns). These findings show that mental health concerns are just as prevalent amongst males, whereas previous research has not demonstrated this, however, that was likely due to under-reporting by men.
Most, if not all Canadians are affected by mental illness, whether it be directly or indirectly. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians personally experience mental illness. Yet despite a large percentage of the population having mental health concerns there are still many barriers associated with getting help, particularly for males. This is evidenced by the number of males who commit suicide, 4 out of 5 suicides are carried out by males.
What are the barriers? The largest barriers to men's mental health is male and societal attitudes, according to the Toronto Men's Health Network. In our culture and society men are expected to be strong and are punished if they deviate from this norm. Weakness and emotional vulnerability is not considered to be 'masculine'. It tends to be easier for men to talk about physical ailments in comparison to emotional ones, this is likely why mental health concerns tend to go undiagnosed.
How can we break down these barriers? There are a few things we can do as a society to shift expectations and perceptions about men and mental health.
- Providing greater recognition of men and their roles as fathers and partners is key in breaking down cultural and societal notions that one gender is more prominent than the other in areas such as the home, parenting, caregiving, emotional support and/or sensitivity, etc.
- Raising awareness of men's mental health concerns, in particular their vulnerability to depression, through campaigns is crucial in reducing stigma and encouraging men to connect with mental health practitioners and resources. It also demonstrates to society as a whole that men experience mental health concerns too.
- Another key factor is normalizing conversation about mental health by health care practitioners. Mental health should be addressed by primary care providers during annual physical exams, regardless of gender.
- And, finally acknowledging there is a lack of data on men's health concerns, specifically mental health and well-being. Developing networking groups, websites, journals, and campaigns that target men and mental health is only the first step in overcoming the many barriers that exist.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health concerns and would like to connect with someone please contact the Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca) for support and resources.
Yours in health,
Dr. Kate Klein, ND