Safeguarding men’s mental wellbeing
Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Men are three times as likely to die from suicide compared to women. Men are twice as likely to develop an alcohol and substance use problem compared to women and six times as likely to die from alcohol related problems.
One in 10 young men in Zimbabwe report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood that can lead to chronic psychological trauma.
However, women are more likely to be screened and treated for mental health challenges compared to men. Women have better access to mental health services.
How can we take better care of our men?
What puts men at risk of mental health challenges?
Family related factors include:
- Genetic predisposition to certain mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and alcohol use problems.
- Family disharmony, frequently witnessing aggression and violence in childhood.
- Inconsistent parenting.
- Maltreatment, physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.
Psychological risk factors include:
- A negative or pessimistic view of oneself, others and life in general.
- Low self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
- Poor communication skills.
- Difficulty regulating one’s emotions.
- Poor self-care skills.
Social and environmental risk factors:
- Poor work/life balance
- Alcohol and substance misuse.
- Traumatic life events (Men are also at greater risk of depression when they have experienced a trauma such as combat, an accident, or physical violence.)
- Harmful gender stereotypes, social and cultural expectations.
- Social isolation.
- Lack of opportunities (adequate schooling, employment.)
Common mental health challenges men face
Our societies put incredible pressure on men to be stoic, self-reliant, invulnerable providers and protectors for their families. This can lead to unhealthy levels of stress. When men are stressed, they are more likely to be irritable and aggressive compared to women. Men are more likely to self-medicate with alcohol and substance use.
Alcohol and substance use problems
Attitudes towards using alcohol and substance use are less negative for men than for women. It is often even thought of as a normal part of male development and socialisation. This possibly leads to men to start using alcohol and substances earlier than women. More men than women use alcohol and substances worldwide overall. Men are twice as likely to develop alcohol and substance use disorders compared to women even at lower quantities of substances used. Deaths due to alcohol are six times higher for men than for women. Men are also more likely to self-medicate with alcohol and substances when facing challenges such as grief, depression, trauma and anxiety.
Male alcohol and substance use is sadly linked to aggressive behaviour, interpersonal and intimate partner violence as well as suicide.
Depression and anxiety
Men can also struggle with depression and anxiety but this may be experienced as frustration, irritability, anger and aggression; high risk behaviour such as high speed, reckless driving and risky sexual behaviour, emotional detachment and numbing as well as overworking.
Safeguarding the mental health of men
To address the mental health needs of men, it is critical that we:
- Encourage emotional awareness, emotional vulnerability and healthy expression of emotions in boys and men.
- Promote psychologically safe homes, schools and workplaces that protect mental well-being.
- Promote community support systems for men to reduce social isolation, promote healthy male bonding and reduce the risk of maladaptive coping mechanisms like aggression and substance use in men.
- Raise awareness about men’s mental health challenges and reduce stigma concerning men seeking mental health support.
- Invest in mental health care systems that promote mental wellbeing and prevent mental ill health in men.
If you think that you or a man that you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.
Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.
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