When silence is not a virtue: how traditional masculinities keep men from seeking mental health advice
On the occasion of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, WHO Europe launched a new report on how masculinity norms can discourage men from recognising and seeking help for mental health problems.
I worked on the report with my co-author Prof Irina Novikova (University of Latvia), with input also from WHO Europe colleagues and external reviewers. The report on Mental health, men, and culture builds on WHO Europe’s Strategy on the health and well-being of men in the WHO European Region, and examines available academic literature in English and Russian languages.
The report suggests that changing the culture around help-seeking behaviours in men requires more gender-transformative health promotion. This would help to redefine harmful gender norms, challenge gender stereotypes and develop more equitable gender roles and relationships. For instance, some successful interventions have reframed help-seeking as a strength rather than a weakness (requiring courage, action and independence), or as a means of regaining valuable attributes (moving from dependence to independence). Changing the way media depicts what it means to be a man, for instance, by emphasising the values of fatherhood or friendship, rather than aggressiveness or an individual code of honour, will play an important role in helping society rethink masculinity.
The report does offer up some ideas for policy makers to consider, including:
- Support the mental health needs of the most vulnerable or at-risk subpopulations of men by tackling the root causes of disconnection and isolation
- Promote collaboration and partnerships between the health sector and community organizations working with diverse male constituencies on a range of projects
- Co-create male-friendly initiatives with those most in need, in order to tailor interventions around their values, customs and priorities.
- Promote appropriate online support forums.
- Mental health, men and culture: how do sociocultural constructions of masculinities relate to men’s mental health help-seeking behaviour in the WHO European Region? (2020)
- Strategy on the health and well-being of men in the WHO European Region
Professor Gough is a Critical Social Psychologist and qualitative researcher interested in men and masculinities. He has published many papers on gender identities and relations, mostly in the context of health, lifestyles and well being.