‘Toxic Masculinity’ Is Stopping Boys Seeking Mental Health Support

A fear of shame or feeling “weak” is deterring many boys and young men from seeking help for mental health problems, new research has found.

This survey shows that males struggle with mental health issues long before they enter the workplace. If these issues go unchecked or unsupported, it could spell trouble for men in the workplace as they leave education.

What Mental Health Challenges Are Males Having?

The survey of 1,100 boys and young men by youth mental health charity stem4 also shows that many do not receive support when they ask for it.

Over a third (37%) of boys and young men aged between 14 and 21 said they were currently experiencing mental health difficulties.

Of these, 51% had not spoken to anyone, 21% were receiving treatment, and 29% had asked for help but were not receiving treatment.

The most prevalent mental health difficulties were stress (47%), anxiety (27%), and depression or low mood (33%).

Other common problems included eating disorders (11%), anger and behavioural issues (10%) and self-harm behaviours (9%).

stem4 works to prevent mental ill-health in teenagers and young people.

It found that almost half (46%) of its survey respondents would not ask for help for a problem that was making them upset, anxious or depressed, “even if things got really bad.”

What Barriers Are Preventing Males From Speaking Up?

When asked what was stopping them, 36% said they didn’t have the courage, 32% said they “don’t want to make a fuss” and 30% said they would feel weak or ashamed.

A fifth (21%) worried that people would laugh or think less of them, and 14% said they would “feel less masculine.”

An additional 15% said they didn’t know how to ask for help.

The survey also explored the effect of cultural factors, with seven in ten saying that boys and young men are negatively portrayed in the media.

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Almost half (46%) identified “pressure from peers to behave in a dominant masculine way” as having a negative impact on the mental health of boys and young men.

A quarter (25%) of boys and young men said being associated with peers who treat girls and women disrespectfully was one of the factors most likely to damage young men’s mental health.

Other factors identified were loneliness, bullying, and the pressure to look good or have a good body.

Dr. Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist and CEO and founder of stem4, says: “We live in a culture that puts huge pressure on boys and young men to behave in particular ways, many of them damaging to their mental health.

“Our survey shows exactly why this is so damaging, with many suffering in silence, even when they’re approaching crisis point.

“If we’re going to tackle boys’ and young men’s mental health, we have to address the cultural blind spots to male mental health.

“It’s also time to start listening properly to boys and men, understand how they express their needs and provide services that will benefit them.”

Are People Supporting Mens’ Mental Health?

Just 37% of boys and young men say they would feel able to approach their family if they were experiencing mental health problems.

Many parents (72%) say they feel ill-equipped to deal with their child or young person’s mental health difficulties.

With such limited referral pathways available, most parents say they are being left to fend for themselves.

The 1,100 boys and young men surveyed identified the following positive steps that should be put in place to protect and improve the mental health of young people.

  • Regular mental health check-ups (just like going to the dentist)
  • Safe places in which to ask for help
  • One-on-one in-person treatment to speak to therapists, not group sessions
  • Better PSHE education in schools, not from a textbook, with practical guidance on how to ask for help
  • Education for families on how to spot early signs of mental ill-health, and how to talk to their children
  • Better, faster access to treatment
  • Recognition that loneliness is real for boys and young men, and that they are not a tough as they portray

If you found this article informative, you might be interested in Six ways to tackle the problem of men’s health, Promoting a safer digital experience in mental health services: a discussion paper, and Tools that empower employees to engage and take responsibility for their own mental health and wellbeing.

You can also access the recording of the Make A Difference webinar, sponsored by Peppy, which focused on “Talking men’s language: how to talk to male colleagues about health” here. Simply enter your details when prompted.


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