Anyone can be affected by mental health challenges, regardless of gender or sex. Yet, men tend to be less likely to receive mental health treatment than women. This could be because men’s mental health remains, to some extent, tied up with traditional gender expectations and roles. As a result, some men are apprehensive about speaking about their emotions, disclosing their difficulties or seeking help.
Some mental health influences and challenges are more relevant to men. There is data to suggest that men are more likely to die from suicide than women (1); an extreme example of the importance of mental health treatments for men. Many men experience loneliness, depression and anxiety, but do not always have a clear path to help.
Attitudes towards mental health in men are changing as awareness grows and we understand that traditional gender expectations about how men ‘should’ be are not always helpful. Everyone struggles at times, and there’s no shame in this. There are many options available, including therapy, that can help to improve the wellbeing of men and women alike.
Common mental health challenges among men
Data suggests that there are higher rates of some mental health conditions in men than women, such as substance abuse and antisocial disorders. One study reported that men are more likely to externalize emotions than women; meaning that men might be more likely to experience aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior (3).
However, men are also affected by the same kinds of mental health conditions as women, including:
- Depression, feeling flat or hopeless
- Anxiety or worrying
- Irritability or anger
- Feeling restless
- Low self-esteem
- Sleeping problems
- Substance abuse, including alcohol use
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Relationship problems
Prevalence of mental health challenges for men
The National Institute of Mental Health found that around 15% of men experienced some kind of mental health condition in 2017 (2). However, the rates could be higher, as men are less likely to report mental health symptoms, and physicians are less likely to identify the symptoms in men (4).
The National Comorbidity Survey Replication found that nearly 5% of men met criteria for a diagnosis of depression, and around 14% for an anxiety disorder (5).
However, despite the prevalence of mental health challenges experienced, only around 35% of men received mental health treatment. This is relatively low compared to the nearly 48% of women who receive treatment (2).
Social issues unique to men
Traditional gender roles and expectations of what it means to be a ‘man’ create some challenges that are unique to being male:
- Men typically comprise the majority of prison populations; current Federal Bureau of Prisons data shows that nearly 93% of inmates are male.
- As noted above, men are more likely to externalize their emotions and are at greater risk of suicide.
- For some men, being socialized into traditional gender roles can mean that they may feel like they must be in control, be self-reliant, or that it is not appropriate to speak openly about emotions (6).
- Men may be less likely than women to seek mental health treatment or to speak to family or friends about their difficulties (7).
- Men may also be more likely than women to use risky coping strategies such as alcohol to manage their distress (8).
These issues can have negative implications for men’s mental health, and also be a barrier to identifying mental health symptoms and seeking help (6).
What to do if you are experiencing mental health challenges
If you are struggling with mental health challenges, consider a combination of the following actions:
- Support groups: Although men tend to be less likely to use social support, many men find support groups to be a helpful component of treatment. Speaking with other men with similar experiences can also help to normalize difficult emotions and thoughts. The Face It Foundation run support groups and peer support services for men experiencing depression. Alternatively, you can find a local support group by searching online using your zipcode.
- Take time out for your mental health: Remember that many people experience mental health challenges during their lifetime, and this is no reflection of a failure to cope.
- Social support: Men are less likely than women to talk to their family and friends about their mental health challenges. However, it is important to stay connected, and family and friends are a source of support. Many people find that it can help to talk things over.
- Therapy: Psychological talking therapies in both individual and group contexts can help with mental health challenges. Types of therapy to consider are discussed further, below.
- Helplines: If you need immediate support, call 1-800-273-8255, or go the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
- Checkups: See your physician for a checkup to rule out any other medical conditions that could be associated with symptoms. Additionally, some mental health symptoms can be managed with medication. You might want to discuss this with your physician, or a specialist such as a psychiatrist.
- Self-care: Pay attention to your diet, try to maintain a regular sleep pattern, and exercise regularly. Find activities that you enjoy, and make time for them in your schedule. Such lifestyle factors can help to regulate our moods (2,3,4).
What to look for in a therapist for men’s health
The best-fitting type of therapist for you will depend on individual factors, symptoms, finances and your location. When selecting a mental health professional, it can be helpful to consider the following factors:
Qualifications and experience
It is always important to look for a licensed mental health professional. This ensures that the therapist has undertaken the appropriate education and training.
Some experts think that contingency-based therapies may be particularly helpful for changing the externalizing behaviors that appear to be more common in men than women. This aside, many types of therapy are beneficial regardless of sex or gender, such as:
Click on the links above to learn more about these types of therapy; this will give you an idea of which type of therapy might align well with you personally. For example, some people will prefer a more structured and educational style of therapy, like CBT. You can then look for therapists that offer your preferred therapy type.
The style of the therapist will also be relevant to the feel of therapy. Some are more reflective, where others are more directive or more focused on techniques and tools. Consider what you would feel most comfortable with and ask your prospective therapists what their approach is like. Additionally, some men find that they feel more comfortable working with a male therapist.
It’s important to consider these factors, which can affect the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. The trusting working relationship with a therapist is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy.
Talk in advance
The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:
- Their qualifications
- If it feels important to you, ask about their experience working with men in therapy
- Any ongoing education and training
- What type of therapy they suggest, and what that will be like
- Their participation in insurance plans and cost of therapy
Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2017”
- National Institute of Mental Health, “Mental Illness”
- An Invariant Dimensional Liability Model of Gender Differences in Mental Disorder Prevalence: Evidence From a National Sample (PDF)
- Reviewing the Assumptions About Men’s Mental Health: An Exploration of the Gender Binary
- Harvard Medical School, “12-Month prevalence of DSM-IV/WMH-CIDI disorders by sex and cohort” (PDF)
- Mental Health Foundation, “Men and Mental Health"
- Mental Health Foundation, "Survey of people with lived experience of mental health problems reveals men less likely to seek medical support"
- Samaritans, “Middle-aged men and suicide”
- American Psychological Association, “Study Finds Sex Differences in Mental Illness”