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Bringing hope to men's mental and physical wellbeing

Updated: Nov 22, 2021


Apologies, I'm going to start with the bad news but end with some hope.....


The average life expectancy for men is 79 compared to women's which is 83. Add to that, people with mental illness tend to have poorer physical health and shorter life expectancy...... and that this likely to be greater for men than women. This is not a good sign for men with mental health challenges, but why? One possible explanation is that men tend not to seek and access support as much as women.


Men's use of health support

Research a few years ago found that men on average visited their GP four times a year as opposed to women who went six times, and they use their local community pharmacy services only four times a year compared with 18 visits for women.


Men on average visited their GP four times a year as opposed to women who went six times

It appears fewer men tend to seek help for mental health challenges too. IAPT is the largest national talking therapies programme in England, providing treatment for common mental health problems such as anxiety disorders and depression. Last year (2019-20), 1.7m people were referred to IAPT, but only 34% were male and only 17% of those referred to IAPT were males 36 years or older vs 29% of women in same age bracket. However, once into treatment, roughly the same proportion of men and women completed therapy (c40%), suggesting this isn't about men not being able to use talking therapies.


only 17% of those referred to IAPT were males 36 years or older..... ........this isn't about men not being able to use talking therapies

Men's mental health

Men have a three times higher risk of completed suicide than women, with men aged 40-49 at highest risk. (ONS). It is also the leading cause of death in men aged 15-35.


Factors attributed to poor mental health in men include relationships breaking down, deprivation, separation from children, job loss, addiction, lack of close friendships, loneliness and being unable to open up.


men have a three times higher risk of completed suicide than women

Life satisfaction

The ONS conducted a UK survey in 2016-17 into personal wellbeing also paints a somewhat dreary picture. Men reported lower levels of personal wellbeing than women for life satisfaction and feeling that the things done in life were worthwhile. In the years ending September 2015 and 2016, there was no significant difference in happiness between men and women but by September 2017, women again reported higher levels of happiness.


Men reported lower levels of personal well-being than women for life satisfaction and feeling that the things done in life are worthwhile


Covid-19 and mental health

It is interesting to note back in 2017 the ONS' statistician's comment about the improvements in wellbeing observed:


“We have seen average ratings of personal well-being slightly improving over the years. Factors such as people’s social connections and health status play an important part in personal well-being. However, some economic factors are also important, so perhaps this trend over time is not surprising as the country came out of the economic downturn.


“We have also seen inequalities emerging within the data, and we will be exploring these further looking at factors that may contribute to some groups of society having lower personal well-being.”



At the time of writing this blog, we are coming to the end of 2020 and are in a Covid-19 second wave in the UK. Social distancing has impacted our ability to connect to our colleagues, loved ones and friends. Covid-19 has had a direct and indirect effect on our health and access to health services. Unemployment has risen and redundancies are at a record high, we are in an economic downturn, and existing inequalities have been deepened. There are now fears for our mental health. Might men be even less likely to seek help in such times?



First off: spotting the (early) signs

But it doesn't have to be all grim. There are a number of things we can do.


First thing, we (not just men) can get better at spotting the signs of a mental health challenge, and the earlier the better. Using the concept of the mental health continuum we can develop better self-awareness of our current mental health status as we are often encouraged to do with our physical health.


Here is an example from the working minds website of signs that might indicate whether you are towards the healthy to ill ends of the mental health continuum. You can use this to track your mental health (or perhaps that of others like your loved ones or colleagues). It helps you to consider changes in different domains of functioning like mood, thinking, physical, behaviour and addictive changes:



If you spot the signs early enough you can intervene and prevent your mental health from escalating to breaking point.


Alternatively you could check out these two brief screening questionnaires used in IAPT to determine if you might need support with anxiety or depression/low mood. If you score 10 or above on either measure then you should discuss with your GP or nearest IAPT service. The higher the score on these measures (above 10) the more intensive the support you might need.



Second: talk, listen, connect

As highlighted above, far fewer men (particularly older men) access talking therapies, their local GP or pharmacist than women. In general, men aren't well known for talking about their emotions and mental health. Rigid adherence to masculine norms and toxic masculinity can be barriers to expressing emotions and seeking support. The result can be inappropriate aggression and risky behaviours, alcohol and substance misuse and poorer mental and physical wellbeing.


Promoting positive social and emotionally connections is one way forward. In recent years there have been campaigns to encourage men to talk, listen and connect such as Time to Talk and Royals, celebrities and sports people promoting mental health as part of Heads Together. It's important though to weave talk about our emotions and mental health into everyday conversations rather than make it a big scary topic to avoid, or we risk increasing the stigma around mental health.


begin weaving our emotions and mental health into everyday conversations rather than make it a big scary topic to avoid, or we risk increasing the stigma around mental health


Número tres: lifestyle adjustments

Mental and emotional wellbeing can be significantly boosted by making lifestyle adjustments. Rather than wait until we reach breaking point to do something, we can practice daily habits that will promote positive physical and mental resilience.


The Stay STRONG skills, which are an adaptation of skills from a psychological therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, are particularly great (but not exclusively) for men as we generally aren't as good women at looking after our physical and mental wellbeing and the skills can improve both.



Stay STRONG skills are to be practised every day rather than only when feeling stressed, anxious or low. It's more like brushing your teeth everyday rather than taking a paracetamol when you have a headache. Each skill supports the other. For example, if you exercise regularly you will increase your chances of better sleep.


{Stay STRONG} is more like brushing your teeth everyday rather than taking a paracetamol when you have a headache

And finally: take breaks

Taking breaks comes in many varieties. For example at work, it means ensuring we take time out to decompress and recuperate. In today's digitally connected world it can be incredibly difficult to 'switch off' both mentally and literally from work. If we don't our productivity and our mental health suffers. No elite athlete trains without rest and breaks.




No elite athlete trains without rest and breaks.

Outside of the working sphere, it could mean taking a break from excessive Covid-19 news coverage, or news more generally whether on TV, radio or social media. Disconnecting from endless information that paints a wall of pessimism, outrage or fear can also be draining on our mental wellbeing. So how about connecting with the positive moments in front of you, be that family, friends, nature, art, old photographs, comedy or music.


And on that note, I'll finish here and do just that; bye for now.



Reduce the stress of caring about how you manage mental health

After a 3-months long open dialogue with over 20 HR directors and senior managers, Amplify recently launched the HR and Manager Consultation programme, a pioneering service that specifically helps HR teams and managers reduce the stress of caring about how they manage mental health at work.


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