Why Men’s Mental Health Crisis is Amplified by Alcohol and Drugs
Music fans were shocked when Keith Flint, front mam of The Prodigy, was found dead, earlier this month. Initial reports showed that the 49-year old singer had hanged himself, after a long battle with alcohol and prescription drugs. The breakdown of Flint’s marriage was said to be a major contributory factor.
— Amy Walsh (@AmyWalsh1306) March 27, 2019
Sadly, this is far from an uncommon event, we also recently saw that Mike Thalassitis from love island has committed suicide too. However this is not just related to celebrities.
Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 35 in the UK (source: Office for National Statistics, 2018). Over three quarters of people who kill themselves in the UK each year are men. The suicide rate is highest in middle aged men (40 to 50 year old age group) accounting for a staggering 24 deaths for every 100,000 of the population.
Campaign groups such as “CALM”, the Campaign Group Against Living Miserably, and the Movember movement (ukmovember.com), have pledged to reduce male suicide rates. Both organisations are committed to spreading awareness about male mental health. In the last few years, they have worked with businesses and communities to create support groups and safe spaces where men can talk.
“we’re alarmed by the increasing number of men who take their own lives around the world. We are working to ensure all men and boys look after their mental health and are comfortable to reach out to others for support when they’re struggling,” says Paul Villanti, Executive Director of Programmes, at Movember.
Lee Cambule of the mental health charity MIND (www.mind.org.uk) believes that there is still stigma attached to men struggling with mental health issues. “Why is it more difficult for men to address their own mental health?” he asks.
“I’m still faced with some out-dated stereotypes as a man suffering from depression; men as a source of strength, dominating positions of power, the hunter gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is alluring/attractive, the ‘show no weakness’ bravado of heroes in the media”
He maintains that in all of these images, there is little or no room for men to be struggling with poor mental health.
Whatever the role of stereotypes and stigmatisation, there continues to be a barrier to men reaching out for help and support.
The Men’s Health Forum, in a 2018 survey, found that 12.5% of the UK male population is suffering from one of the so-called common mental health disorders:
- Long-term stress
- Obsessive compulsive disorders.
Yet the same study found that less than one in five men would seek medical help for a mental health or emotional problem.
The reluctance to come forward and ask for help is borne out by the NHS IAPT initiative.
IAPT stands for “Improving Access to Psychological Therapies” and it reports that men are less likely to access psychological therapies.
Only 36% of their referrals (2016-2018) were men.
It seems there is a crisis point in male mental health with too few men able to come forward and ask for help. The teams behind Movember and CALM also acknowledge that men have a greater chance of developing unhealthy coping strategies when facing a mental health problem.
Men are at high risk of using alcohol or drugs to manage a mental health problem.
In the UK, men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men compared with 3.3% of women, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre).
Anecdotally, men are more likely to use (and die from) illegal drugs.
Rebecca Sparkes is a London-based psychotherapist, specialising in addiction and depression/anxiety. She says that men are using alcohol and drugs in life-threatening proportions, to deal with mental health problems.
“Most people seeing psychotherapy have experienced some sort of depression,” she says. “This can also manifest as anxiety and is often triggered by work stress or problems in a relationship. While women are typically more comfortable in coming forward and talking about these issues, men often turn to alcohol or drugs.”
Rebecca says: “Not only are there physical health consequences, but any mental health problem is made worse by medication on alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol is a depressant and interrupts sleep, which is vital for mental health.
Most recreational drugs leave users with a ‘come down’ in which anxiety and depression is compounded.”
“While women seem better able to talk about emotional problems with friends and family. Men still seem more likely to ‘bottle it up’ and by that I mean, not talk but to drink and take drugs. See our page on Addiction And Depression.
Paul Villanti agrees: “Men engage in more risky activities that are harmful to their health.
These behaviours are strongly linked to adherence to some harmful aspects of traditional masculinity.
Men often feel pressure to appear strong and stoic and talking about feeling mentally or physically unwell can be perceived as weakness.”
Rebecca says that organisations such as Movember and CALM are doing a very good job in providing male-oriented support groups where men can reach out when they are struggling.
“We still have a long way to do before men are as comfortable talking about mental health as women are in our society. It is only then will we see a significant reduction in male suicide and in the spiralling levels of drug and alcohol abuse in the male population.”
If you are worried about a friend or family member and would like to speak to an expert for free advice and next steps, please contact Help4addiction on 0203 955 7700.
Written by Author: Rebecca Sparkes