Francesca Smith
Francesca specialises in lifestyle research, drawing from her experience of market analysis, market research and knowledge of consumer trends.

1 November marks the beginning of Movember, a month-long campaign that arrives every year in the form of your male friends, family members and colleagues sporting a moustache (with varying levels of success). The light-hearted attempts to grow extra facial fuzz does, of course, have a more serious and well-meaning cause at heart: seeking to raise awareness and funds for male health issues including mental health, suicide preventation, prostate and testicular cancer.

Charities such as Movember and CALM have made great progress in opening up the conversation and reducing some of the stigma attached to male mental health, but there is still a long way to go. Here, we will look at some of the issues causing most concern to men, and what brands can do to support them.

Gen Z are most reluctant to open up about mental health

The good news is that our research found that most men are comfortable talking about mental health. Six in 10 men feel comfortable talking to a doctor about this. Perhaps most reassuring is that there is no real difference in how comfortable men are to open up to a doctor about physical or mental health.

The charity Movember funds men’s health projects around the world, and aims to transform the way health services reach and support men. Source: Movember.

Willingness to talk about mental health falls to 40% of Gen Z (18-25) men, however. Gen Z have been branded the generation more open and accepting of mental health issues, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are more empowered to seek help. While it is true that some Gen Zers are more willing to share their concerns, just like many stereotypes around Gen Z, it doesn’t ring true for everybody.

As documented in Mintel’s Trend Open Diary, though, we do know that Gen Z are loud and proud on social media, even when discussing more serious and personal topics. Most men aged 18-24 think it’s much easier to talk about stress and wellbeing with someone online than in person. Like many aspects of their life, Gen Z males feel more comfortable online than off.

Young men have a long list of anxieties

What makes younger men’s reluctance to speak to a doctor most concerning is that they report poorer mental health than older groups. Nearly a fifth aged 18-34 describe their mental health as somewhat or very unhealthy and they report more factors causing them stress and anxiety.

The pandemic took its toll on young adults, who were already facing the intense pressure of living in an always-connected digital world. The impact of social media also cannot be overstated. Social media is overloaded with edited images of influencers and celebrities, pushing unrealistic body standards and ‘lifestyle goals’. It is perhaps unsurprising then that body image concerns are the top cause of anxiety for Gen Z males.

Life-stage specific concerns

Men face a number of different stressors across their lives. For 18-24 year olds, insecurities are dominated by body image and relationships. When men reach their mid-twenties, finances become, and stay, the biggest cause of anxiety until their mid-sixties. Importantly, these money concerns will only be exacerbated by the income squeeze many households are currently facing with inflation at a 40-year high.

Millennial men, in particular, are anxious about work, while over-65s become increasingly concerned about their physical health.

What does this mean for brands?

In the short-term, digital channels are going to be the way to support Gen Z males. Mental health and wellbeing support offered through digital channels – whether this be through an app, online therapy or via texting – will be key to supporting this generation, where they can access help from the comfort and security of their smartphone.

For example, BetterHelp, an online counselling and therapy platform, has proved popular among young adults. Users are matched with a mental health professional and can text, web-chat, phone or video call them. Going a step further, a number of apps and online platforms have begun offering support from therapists generated entirely by artificial intelligence – something we are likely to see more of in the future.

Betterhelp proves popular among young adults – the digital platform makes it easy for users to seek help and advice from mental health professionals. Source: Betterhelp.

But really, mental health conversations need to be out in the open

While online mental health support can provide a short-term solution, it does not address the bigger issue of men not feeling able to talk about their emotions openly.

Brands can help destigmatise mental health by bringing the conversation into public spaces. For example, Gymshark opened Deload, a barbershop with mental health-trained barbers offering free haircuts as part of a week-long campaign in July 2022. NIVEA Men is also helping create a supportive environment through its Head Skill Academy, a football training camp that enables grassroots team captains to incorporate ‘mental fitness’ into their teams.

Brands need to also create similar safe spaces across society – at gyms, cafes, workplaces and pubs – to further the progress in addressing male mental health in the open.

Gymshark Deload’s Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) offers helpful guides and advice to prevent suicides in the UK. Source: Gymshark.

Men need tailored mental health support

Mental health support services and brands need to provide tailored support to men on the issues that most concern them. For example, support with managing financial pressures, building healthy relationships and promoting a positive body image, integrated with general wellbeing support.

Brands can take cues from mindfulness app, Headspace, which addresses the link between money and mental health through its ‘Mindful Money’ content. The toolkit includes advice, exercises and meditations to support financial wellness and encourage compassion when managing finances. Similarly, the platform provides specific meditations for encouraging a healthy attitude towards your body, dealing with climate anxiety, and help for parents, to name a few.

By supporting men through lifestyle concerns, brands can alleviate some of their anxieties and enable them to proactively manage their mental health, as well as building trusting relationships with customers.

What we think

While male mental health is increasingly being discussed in the media, at work, and by brands, the severity and scale of the problem still remains. Charities and brands need to provide practical solutions to support men’s wellbeing and help create open and safe environments across society, where men feel empowered to talk about their mental health.