Despite awareness efforts, educating society on mental health, and the progress we have made in both areas, stigma remains a barrier to better wellbeing for everyone; but more so for men. The negative impact of stigma is imperative to address considering the 115 suicides in the UK alone every week, 75% are men; proving we have much more work to be done in fighting stigma and the barriers it imposes on men’s mental health.  

With 40% of men never speaking about their mental health struggles until considering suicide or self-harm, it is clear there are factors that keep men from reaching out for help when they first begin to struggle with their mental health; some of these factors are main contributors to the stigma that perpetuates men struggling in silence. The first steps to fighting stigma and giving men a voice is identifying these factors, and learning as much as we can about them. Only then can we begin to identify possible solutions to this critical issue.  


We know stigma has been a consistent barrier to addressing mental health struggles. But why is it more so for men? 

The long-standing idea of what constitutes a “real man” is one of the biggest contributors to the stigma men face. This idea is stitched around the concept of masculinity –that “real men” remain strong and resilient in the face of adversity and to show any emotion is equivalent to baring a deformity in one’s manhood – a weakness for all to see.  

Think “boys don’t cry” and “man up” attitudes. Attitudes that generation after generation have trained themselves and the rest of society to adhere to since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although waxing and waning over time to find certain circumstances acceptable for men to shed tears, such as during bereavement, but still preferably done in private.  

It’s no surprise that men would find it uncomfortable to openly express their emotions let alone reach out for help when those emotions are becoming detrimental to their mental health, considering preconceived notions of masculinity and the misconceptions that these gender ideals propagate.  

Whether externally or interpersonally – or both – men tend to perceive mental health struggles as a weakness and therefore are more likely to conceal their struggles rather than address them. “Manning up” allows them to keep their tough guy exterior and deny any notions of weakness in their manhood. Paired with this, the concept of self-reliance is also heavily attached to the stereotypical views of masculinity, which predisposes men to feel that they should be handling everything on their own.  

Along with the factors listed above that are feeding stigma, men are faced with a complex set of pressures that put them at risk for poor mental health.  

Pressure to be the “perfect man” – IE: be the best husband, the perfect dad, and the family provider, all while achieving/maintaining a successful career and looking good/being fit while doing so. And if all that isn’t enough, add on inadequate resources for support and an all-too often unhealthy peer dynamic and it’s quite easy to see why men are finding themselves struggling to stand under the bone crushing weight of it all.  

Even men who have yet to marry or have children aren’t safe from the anvil of pressure. They may dodge the ‘best husband’ and ‘perfect father’ expectations, but they’re traded for the pressure to “settle down” – either because they haven’t found a life partner yet or because they are in a relationship that carries the expectation of graduating to marital status. Plus, many of these men are still expected to financially provide for the household regardless of marital status or absence of children.  

Men in the dating world are held to high expectations as well.  

How a man earns his money can be seen as a determining factor to his overall worth as a potential partner. Men are conditioned to believe that their worth is based on how much money they make or how prestigious their job title is, putting immense pressure on them to gain and maintain highly successful careers. 

For years, women have felt enormous pressure to have the ‘perfect’ body, but in recent years, we’re seeing an increase in men feeling the pressure to look ‘perfect’ too. Whether fuelled by the recent increase in male grooming products or the media portrayal of tanned and toned men setting the beauty standard for the modern man, the pressure is real and carries some very real consequences.  

The prevalence of eating disorders in men is on the rise, with behaviours associated with eating disorders, such as binge eating, purging, and fasting, nearly as common among men as they are among women.  

What makes this rise even scarier is the stigma associated with men and masculinity reduces the number of men seeking treatment for these deadly disorders and this same stigma often results in misdiagnosis of eating disorders in men due to the false assumption that these disorders primarily affect women. Early intervention is key to increasing the likelihood of achieving full physical and emotional recovery, and unfortunately, stigma is preventing many from this critical early intervention.  

Stigma fed by gender ideals, external and intrapersonal pressures experienced by men, and a high percentage of reluctance to speak up and reach out are resulting in men needlessly suffering in silence. This must change. Barriers must come down. Lives quite literally depend on it. 

  • Be mindful of your language. Avoid phrases such as: “man up” “boys don’t cry” “you ___ like a girl” and any other language that perpetuates toxic ideas of masculinity while discouraging men to seek support when needed. 
  • Encourage the men in your life to talk about their emotions. Let them know it’s not weak to show emotions and that you are a safe space for them to open up to without judgement. 
  • Check in on your mates and lead by example. Being vulnerable and open in your own conversations surrounding struggles will encourage your friends to feel safe in doing the same. 
  • Educate yourself about mental health. Symptoms of depression manifest differently in men than women. Men are more likely to exhibit anger and aggression as well as physiological symptoms such as a racing heart, digestive issues and headaches. This leads to more men seeking help from doctors for their physical health rather than their emotional symptoms, which is why it’s important to educate the public about mental health and mental illness.  
  • Implement more support options for men in our communities. Bridge the gap between men reluctant to seek therapy but needing mental health support. 
  • Workplaces implementing mental health support for workers. Provide education, review policies that could limit work stress/pressure and/or include schedule flexibility and other factors to assist in better mental health.  
  • Break generational gender ideals by teaching young males that expressing emotions is healthy and not at all a sign of weakness. Educate the youth on mental health, coping mechanisms and the importance of seeking help when struggling.  
  • Talk. Talk often. Awareness is key to fighting stigma. 
  • Limit time on social media – studies show excessive social media use is linked to mental health struggles. 
  • Talk to someone you trust. 
  • Reach out to support groups and mental health professionals. 
  • Educate yourself about mental health and coping strategies. 
  • Address any work-related stress with your employer as soon as you notice it. 
  • Take time to decompress with hobbies and interests that you enjoy. 
  • Communicate openly and honestly with your family and friends about what you’re feeling and struggling with. 
  • Identify pressures that are within your control and those that are out of your control. Reserve your energy for the things you have control over. 
  • Most importantly, know that you are not alone and reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak. There is no shame in struggle. 

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