The Silent Crisis in Men’s Mental Health
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are suffering from increased stress, anxiety, depression and/or isolation – a reflection of the public health crisis and the prolonged social and economic turmoil we’ve witnessed since March 2020. The vaccine rollout is certainly a relief and a reason for optimism, but many experts predict that the decline in Canadians’ mental health will persist long after the physical danger of COVID-19 has diminished.
No doubt, the pandemic has challenged all of us. Research has shown, however, that men are less likely to seek or receive emotional support, and this can contribute to poor mental health.
Over the past decade, awareness of men’s mental health has grown steadily, as academics, health organizations and the media increasingly call attention to the issue. Women are diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders at higher rates than men are, so why the need to raise awareness about men’s struggles? Men are socialized to be tough, stoic and “manly,” rather than encouraged to talk about their emotions or show vulnerability. They are more likely to suffer in silence and turn to destructive coping strategies such as substance abuse and risky behaviour.
Men are also more likely than women to die by suicide, although women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide. Men make up 75% of the approximately 4,000 people who die by suicide in Canada each year. Men who are middle-aged (45 to 64 years old) have the country’s highest rate of suicide, and suicide is the leading cause of death for younger men. Suicide among men has been called a “silent epidemic” because of its alarming rate of incidence and lack of public awareness.
The greatest risk factor for suicide is mental illness, especially depression. “More than 80% of people who die by suicide were living with a mental illness or substance use disorder,” says the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). It notes that other factors may include “marital breakdown, economic hardship, a change in physical health, a major loss, or a lack of social support.” Movember, a charitable organization dedicated to men’s health, says, “Risk factors that increase a man’s vulnerability to poor mental health and suicide include relationship breakdown, acute stress, persistent low mood and social isolation.”
Mental illness and stigma
Although mental health problems are common in Canada – affecting one in five people every year, and one in two people by age 40 – the stigma associated with mental illness persists. “Stigma is the negative stereotype and discrimination is the behaviour that results from this negative stereotype,” the Canadian Mental Health Association explains on its website. “Often, individuals with a mental illness are faced with multiple, intersecting layers of discrimination as a result of their mental illness and their identity.”
The stigma surrounding mental illness can prevent men from seeking help and discourage them from confiding in family members and friends. Men are also concerned about how stigma could affect their professional prospects. A 2019 Movember survey found that 28% of Canadian men fear their job could be at risk if they discussed their mental health at work. A third of respondents “think they could be held back from promotion at work if they mentioned a problem that they were finding it difficult to cope with.”
The impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional mental health challenges, with Canadians from coast to coast reporting higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. People of all ages and genders have been affected in different ways. Here are some of the findings on men’s mental health:
- In a Movember survey of 1,430 Canadians, including nearly 800 men, conducted in the spring of 2020, 27% reported their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.
- Men were less likely than women to seek help to manage COVID-19 life changes (49% of men compared to 58% of women).
- Eight out of 10 men think it’s helpful when people ask if they’re having a difficult time, but 40% of respondents said no one had asked how they’re coping during COVID-19.
- 57% of men aged 45 and older felt less connected to friends since the beginning of the pandemic; 48% of men aged 18 to 24 also felt this way.
- Surveys conducted by CAMH from May to December 2020 found that men were more likely than women to engage in binge drinking.
- A more recent Movember survey, released in April, found that 66% of men believe men’s mental health is worse than it has ever been, and 50% believe that living through the pandemic may have changed their mental health forever.
Supporting men’s mental health
To improve support for men facing mental health challenges, several organizations have launched programs and resources for men. There are also several initiatives created by men, for men, to encourage each other to discuss their feelings and seek assistance when needed. The resources (listed below) are also helpful for family members and friends who want to learn more or provide support.
Men’s mental health resources
These resources are not intended for emergencies or life-threatening situations. If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency department.
Buddy Up: Buddy Up is a men’s suicide prevention campaign, launched by the Centre for Suicide Prevention (a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association). Learn about men’s suicide and how we can all play a role in prevention.
Heads Up Guys: This resource from the University of British Columbia helps men fight depression with tips, tools, personal stories and information about mental health services. The website has a section about coping during COVID-19.
A Guy’s Guide to Mental Health: The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation created the Don’t Change Much campaign to inspire men and their families to lead healthier lives. Its online guide to mental health includes information about COVID-19.
Movember: Each November, the Movember movement for men’s health raises funds for projects related to mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. Movember’s website features articles and personal stories.
#SickNotWeak: Sports journalist and mental health advocate Michael Landsberg created this site to help people understand that mental illness is a sickness, not a weakness.
For the mental health and well-being of healthcare workers, Carecor is proud to support the Canadian Mental Health Association. We’re focusing our charitable giving towards its programs and initiatives all year long. If you support our fundraising efforts by donating through our charitable foundation, Bayshore Foundation for Empowered Living, we’ll match your contribution by 50%!