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Mental Health and Gender

Today I've decided to write on a topic that i am really passionate about. The topic of mental health and in particular the role 'gender' plays.

Firstly mental health problems affect both men and women. Statistics suggest that approximately one in four of us in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year... that's ten million of us!

Despite mental health problems affecting both genders, there is a notable but hidden disparity between male and female sufferers. A study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) entitled 'Gender Disparities In Mental Health' revealed that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety and depression, while men are equally more likely to suffer from alcohol/drug addiction or antisocial personality disorder. Interestingly, there was no obvious difference when it came to other mental or psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. Overall though there seems to be very similar rates of mental illness - it's just the illnesses themselves that differ between the genders.

There are also differences in the likelihood of individuals seeking help/support for their mental health problem. It is felt that men tend to be less likely to speak openly and are therefore much less likely to seek any treatment.

Statistics looking at referral rates to IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) highlight this disparity well - 64% of all referrals were for women and only 36% were for men. It is also important to note here that suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK and in any given year approximately 75% of all UK suicides are committed by men. It’s a shocking statistic and highlights that the problem is far too big for us to ignore.

Although some efforts to challenge the traditional gender stereotypes have been made, there is still a common view that men are strong, self-reliant and brave.

Think about how many times we have heard people commenting and joking about men not liking to ask for directions if they are lost! Or how many times we have heard someone tell a young boy to "be brave" when he is starting to get tearful. Or tell a boy he needs to "man up" and that "boys don't cry". These stereotypes clearly still exist and the result is that men believe they must be brave and self-reliant to be respected so they will often hope that they can fix any problems themselves or that with time the problems will just go away. This is demonstrated by the fact that it is often the wives and girlfriends who make appointments for their male partners. John Ogrodniczuk, PhD, professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada was even quoted as saying "I have had male patients who, when I asked why they are there, said 'I don't know. My wife wanted me to come.'"

Seeking help can leave men feeling as though they are weak, or unmanly - and this view has got to change so men can feel able to ask for support when they need it rather than struggling alone. In order to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, more men are coming forward publicly to share their struggles and this is brilliant. I've noticed an increase in male counselling clients lately and this is possibly in part due to this movement to break down the stigma.

My advice to any man suffering from mental illness — or simply struggling through a rough patch — is to remember: you’re not alone, you’re not a burden, and you’re not “weak” for reaching out. Please seek the support you may need. You don't have to fight this battle alone.

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