The uncomfortable truth: A third of men aged 16-34 are too embarrassed to seek help for mental health issues

November 18, 2019

With the Movember campaign shining a spotlight on men’s health issues, new research from Mintel, the experts in what consumers want and why, reveals there’s still a long way to go to fight the stigma of mental illness. Young men, in particular, are struggling to open up about their mental wellbeing.

While there has been significant progress when it comes to breaking down many of the taboos that surround mental health conditions, today, a third (33%) of men aged 16-34 admit that feelings of embarrassment could prevent them from seeking help with their mental health; this compares to an average of 26% of all males.

Other issues acting as barriers to seeking help include the belief that professional help would be “too expensive” – cited by 28% of 16-34s versus 17% of all men. Not knowing where to go for help is a potential barrier for a quarter (25%) of 16-34s, compared to 22% of men overall. Perhaps most alarmingly, 25% of 16-34-year-old men do not believe that seeking the advice of a professional would help anyway, compared to a fifth (20%) of all men.

Jack Duckett, Mintel Associate Director of Consumer Lifestyles Research, said:

“There has been a strong focus on men’s mental health in the last few years and there are certainly signs that things are changing for the better. But given that so many men say feelings of embarrassment could prevent them from seeking help suggests that men’s mental health is still a deeply stigmatised issue.

“Campaigns must continue to encourage men to feel more comfortable discussing their mental wellbeing, whether that be with family, friends or in a professional setting. It would appear that not all mental health conditions are treated equally. Although there is a growing acceptance of conditions such as depression and anxiety, there is a need to change perceptions of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and personality disorders. A more direct approach towards highlighting these conditions would undoubtedly be a boon for mental health acceptance.”

Loneliness: The biggest taboo

Mintel research reveals how at ease – or not – men are about discussing personal matters. While many men are comfortable about talking to their spouse or partner about certain personal matters, such as their physical appearance (52%), fewer are prepared to talk to them about feelings of sadness, loneliness and stress/anxiety.

The biggest talking taboo is loneliness, as Mintel reveals that just 38% of men would feel comfortable discussing this with their partner and as many as a quarter (25%) of all men would not feel comfortable talking to anyone about this whatsoever.

Meanwhile, less than half (47%) of men would feel comfortable opening up about feelings of sadness with their partners and a fifth (19%) of them say they would not be comfortable discussing sadness with anyone at all. Stress and anxiety are also a challenge; around one in seven men (14%) would not feel comfortable discussing these topics with anyone.

“Being stoic – which is a nice way of saying ‘internalising your emotions’ – has long been considered a hallmark of masculinity, particularly the British brand of masculinity. For men who refrain from sharing some of their deeper thoughts and feelings with others, it can be hard to create anything more than purely superficial relationships. These, in turn, can make it hard for men to feel comfortable opening up, fueling a vicious cycle that can result in deep feelings of loneliness.

“A number of brands, including Ford and TV channel Dave, have created campaigns designed to encourage men to be more direct when it comes to talking to their male friends about their emotional wellbeing. However, there remains scope to further increase this message and encourage men to enjoy deeper level social interactions with their family and friends.” Adds Jack.

Encouraging a more proactive approach to health problems

Finally, more than seven in ten (71%) men agree that they are more likely than women to ignore health problems. While men aged 45-64 are the most likely to agree with this statement (78%), the majority of younger men aged 16-24 are in agreement too (65%).

“There is little denial amongst men that, as a gender, they are more likely to ignore health problems than their female counterparts. Reticence to seek help for health problems sooner rather than later could – at least partly – explain why men’s life expectancy continues to fall short of women’s. With testicular cancer now the most common type of cancer amongst young men, there have been a number of advertisements centred on getting men to regularly check their testes and seek help as soon as they have any concerns. However, there is scope to widen this message of ‘proactive health’ to other types of health issues, including their mental health.” Jack concludes.

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