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From Stigma to Support: Insight into 5 Critical Mental Health Issues Men Face

By Sara McQuaid. Edited by Sumaiya Iqbal



Introduction

Welcome back and thank you for joining us on the CCP Blog! 

As spring warms into summer, June presents endless opportunities for reflection. We celebrate LGBTQ2+ Pride Month, Indigenous History Month and Men’s Mental Health Month. This month on the CCP Blog we want to spotlight men’s mental health and the unique challenges they may face.  Despite an increased awareness of mental health, men continue to struggle with expressing their emotions and seeking help due to societal pressures and stigma. By addressing these challenges, we hope to create a more inclusive and equitable space where men feel more empowered to prioritize their mental well-being. 

As of 2023, only 47% of Canadian men reported themselves as having ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ mental health. Let’s take a closer look at some of the mental health challenges men face and explore what makes these challenges unique to the male experience.

How did it become so common for men to remain silent about their mental health? 

We live within a long standing that oppresses men’s psychology and emotions, stretching back thousands of years. The male image has been regularly painted as one of strong, silent strength. Masculinity and manhood has often been wrapped up in toxic notions of war, muscles, and soldier hood steeped in feelings of suffering and violence. But where did these feelings come from? Scholar Graham Dawson points to the Soldier Heros: “The soldier hero has proved to be one of the most durable and powerful forms of idealized masculinity within Western Cultural tradition since the time of the Ancient Greeks…Celebrated as a hero in adventure stories, telling of his dangerous and daring exploits, the soldier hero has become a quintessential figure of masculinity.” (2) Understanding the historical context is crucial in addressing the modern mental health crisis among men, as it reveals the deep-rooted barriers that may prevent them from seeking the resources they need. Let’s look further into some of the challenges that come from this system of emotional suppression. 



1. Body Image and Eating Disorders: Eating disorders are arguably one of the most gendered mental health disorders, often attributed to women due to society’s long-standing pressure on women to conform to a certain fluctuating image of perfect femininity related to weight loss. However, it is important to recognize that there are many kinds of eating disorders outside of starvation and purging. An unhealthy obsession over weight or muscle gain are also considered disordered behaviour. Surveys in the United States have shown that: "Nearly 22% of young men report engaging in muscle-enhancing behaviours, including eating more or differently to build muscle (17%), supplement use (7%), and androgenic-anabolic steroid use (3%) [8]” The abuse of these performance-enhancing drugs can lead to long term abnormalitiesincluding heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, tumours and mental health disorders. 

2. Less likely to have a primary caretaker. Men between the ages of 15- 65 years of age are less likely to have a primary care provider.  Men are more likely to struggle with the challenges that arise from dealing with mental health without support such as alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, or suicide, yet do not have access to a medical expert.  Having a routine doctor is important because it allows us to track long-term health conditions that may be overlooked. Establishing contact with health care providers is huge for youth facing homelessness, as their living conditions make them vulnerable to negative health consequences such as aggravated illnesses, dangerous sexual activity, and uncontrolled mental health challenges. 

Youth facing homelessness are often barred from accessing health care providers from outward or inward causes. They may fear legal or social services intervention and be placed in the foster system, lack knowledge on how to access resources or lack affordable healthcare insurance. Some doctors' offices may not be open to seeing youth without parental consent or immunization records. By reducing stigma and increasing youth facing homelessness access to health care, we can work together to prevent further health challenges. 

3.   2SLGBTQ+ Men report even worse mental health: Statistics Canada collected data from October to December 2022 and reported that 29% of males identifying as LGBTQ2+ were much less likely to report excellent or very good mental health compared to men who did not identify as such. 51% of men who did not identify under the LGBTQ2+ umbrella reported excellent or very good mental health. This gap can be attributed to a variety of factors including the stigma faced by those who are not “straight” passing and the toll this takes on mental health.The stress of navigating a world that often marginalizes or fails to fully accept diverse sexual orientations and gender identities can lead to heightened anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges among LGBTQ2+ men.




4. Risk-taking behaviors:

Have you ever wondered why we are so wild and carefree as teenagers? Adolescent teens are often drawn to risk-taking behaviours influenced by a combination of social, psychological and physical factors. As teens, we want to learn and understand our limits but often do not understand the long-term consequences of our actions. This can be explained by the connection between the fact that the human brain that monitors planning and impulse control does not completely mature until the age of 25

Men have been regularly linked to being more prone to risk-taking behaviours. Risk-taking behaviours include anything from gambling, extreme sports, substance abuse, dangerous driving and unprotected sex. For example, boys are twice as likely than girls to die from drowning because they are more likely to be near large bodies of water alone or while abusing substances. Youth facing homelessness are a vulnerable group for risk-taking behaviours and may not have access to the mental health resources they need to understand the consequences of their actions. 

Researchers don’t quite understand why men engage in these behaviours, but research is being done to further available knowledge. One theory that has been developed is the Young Male Syndrome which is defined by the APA as “the propensity of males in their mid to late teens and twenties, and particularly those who are unmarried and unemployed, to engage in violent altercations to resolve seemingly trivial matters, to ‘save face,’ to harm a rival, or otherwise to enhance their social status.” Further research is needed to better understand this behaviour to help men receive the treatment they need. 

5. Greater Risk for Suicide 

The last topic to discuss is one of the difficult statistics: the World Health Organization reports suicide is currently the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24. In Canada, men are three times more likely to die from suicide and it is the 9th leading cause of death in the country. It is entirely preventable if those suffering from suicide idealization are given the tools they need to overcome their feelings of hopelessness. 

Youth facing homelessness are in a high-risk group for suicide because of the prevalence of mental health challenges they face. Youth who are at risk include those who have one or more mental or substance abuse problems, impulsive control problems, imprisonment and a family history reflecting these same behaviours. Learning the warning signs and teaching the signs to others is a huge way you can help those you fear may be suffering from suicide idealization. These signs include a change in eating or sleeping patterns, losing interest in hobbies, talking about going away or making funeral arrangements, referring to themself as a burden, and an increase in risk-taking behaviours. By recognizing these warning signs, we as change makers can play a crucial role in saving the lives of at-risk male youth facing homelessness.






Conclusion

To summarize, the mental health issues men face are deeply rooted in long-standing societal norms and expectations that discourage emotional expression or seeking help. The impact of these cultural challenges is evident in the high rates of mental health disorders, risk-taking behaviours and suicide among men and youth facing homelessness. Addressing these issues will require a complex all-encompassing approach that includes more research into the causes to create impactful long-term solutions, reduce stigma, provide accessible healthcare and recognize the unique struggles men face. Together, we can break the silence of struggle and suffering, and create a culture where all individuals regardless of sex or gender can thrive emotionally and physically. 

Thank you for joining us on the CCP Blog! For July, we are so excited to announce our Month of Mindfulness Challenge: an opportunity for everyone regardless of gender to spend time taking care of their mental wellbeing. Stay tuned for more updates. 

Works Cited 1. Statistics Canada, 2023: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=4510007901 2. Masculinities and Male Culture in the Second World War, edited by Linsey Robb and Juliette Pattison. Page 111. https://www.google.ca/books/edition/Men_Masculinities_and_Male_Culture_in_th/feM8DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover


3.National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7867380/  4. ​​Anabolic Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs)https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/anabolic-steroids#:~:text=Anabolic%20steroids%20can%20cause%20severe,leading%20to%20resumption%20of%20use.


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