Breaking the Silence: Men's Mental Health MattersNov 03, 2023
Approximately one million men suffer from major depression in Canada each year.1 Depression, anxiety, substance-use disorders, post-traumatic disorder, and bipolar disorder are among the most common mental health issues men face.2 While men and women experience similar rates of mental health disorders, statistics indicate that only around 30% of those utilizing mental health services are men.1 This disparity underscores a substantial gender gap in mental health support that puts men at higher risk of being undiagnosed or undertreated.
The stigma surrounding men's mental health is a pervasive issue that needs to be addressed. Society often paints a picture of masculinity that discourages emotional vulnerability, leading to the underreporting and neglect of men's mental well-being. Understanding the devastating toll on men, the barriers to seeking help, and the strategies to promote better health is essential to break the silence and provide more mental health resources to men in need.
Suicide Rates for Men
The gravity of the situation becomes evident when examining the suicide statistics. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that of the estimated 4,000 suicide deaths in Canada each year, nearly 75% are men.3 Indigenous men and sexual and gender minority men in Canada face even higher suicide risks, including ideation, attempts, and deaths when compared to the general population. Male Inuit youth, in particular, experience suicide attempts at rates ten times higher than non-Indigenous male youth. Additionally, sexual minority men (gay, bisexual, queer) are up to six times as likely to experience suicidal ideation compared to heterosexual men.
Risk Factors for Suicide in Men
Several risk factors contribute to the higher incidence of depression and suicide among men. A significant factor is excessive alcohol consumption. Men are two to three times more likely than women to use substances harmfully.4 High doses of alcohol, whether consumed acutely or over the long term, can exacerbate depressive symptoms, reduce inhibitions, and lead to more serious suicide attempts.3 Men are not only more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorders than women but also tend to have higher blood alcohol levels at the time of suicide.3
Other risk factors include loneliness, relationship breakdowns, societal stigma and exclusion, and various forms of trauma, abuse, and violence, such as homophobia, discrimination, and physical abuse.3 Both social isolation and traumatic experiences can intensify feelings of vulnerability, worsen existing mental health problems, and lead to substance abuse.
Environments that pressure men to conform to traditional masculine qualities, such as strength and stoicism, also put men at higher risk. Men are often conditioned from an early age to suppress their emotions, leading to a culture of silence and self-reliance. This can make it more challenging for men to recognize signs of mental illness in themselves. Studies reveal that men often describe their own symptoms of depression without realizing they are depressed, making no connection between their mental health and physical symptoms.5 If they do understand they have a mental health issue, they are less likely to come forward due to stigma. A Today Show poll revealed that 45% of men surveyed believe mental health issues can be solved on their own.2 Instead of seeking support, men may mask their emotional pain by turning to harmful behaviours.
How to Spot Depression in Men
Negative culture and stigma around mental health can make it a challenge to know when men are experiencing mental health concerns. Being aware of common signs and behaviours can help identify when someone may need professional help. Some indicators include the following5:
- Depressed mood, irritation, and/or anger
- More withdrawn than usual
- Decreased interests or pleasure in things they used to enjoy
- Weight change or change in appetite
- Fatigue, loss of energy or change in sleeping habits
- Feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness
- Reduced ability to concentrate
Research has found that men are also more likely to exhibit some of the following symptoms, which can mask the common symptoms listed above6:
- Physical pain such as headaches, backaches and digestive problems
- Reckless behaviour such as engaging in dangerous sports, drinking compulsively, gambling, engaging in unsafe sex, etc.
- Verbal abuse and violence
Strategies for Supporting Men's Mental Health
Employers can play a vital role in supporting the mental health of their male employees by implementing a range of strategies. These actions can help reduce stigma, increase awareness, and promote open communication about men's mental health challenges:
- Create a Supportive Culture: Foster a work environment that allows for greater recognition of emotions and help-seeking among men. Encourage employees to understand and acknowledge their own biases around gender, mental health, and help-seeking, creating an atmosphere that de-stigmatizes mental illness and encourages open conversations.
- Recognize Signs of Problematic Alcohol Use: Provide information and resources to help employees recognize signs of problematic alcohol use. Educate them about the links between alcohol consumption, depression, and suicide. Encourage safer alcohol consumption to reduce immediate and long-term risks and harms.
- Learn About Male-Type Depression and Warning Signs: Ensure that employees are aware of male-type depression and the various warning signs for suicide. Encourage the recognition of mood and behavioral changes, such as increased alcohol consumption, social withdrawal, and impulsive behavior, which may indicate depression and suicidal tendencies.
- Support During Life Changes: Recognize that employees going through challenging life transitions, such as breakups, separations, or divorces, may be at greater risk for mental health issues. Offer resources and programs that encourage social connections in informal settings to reduce isolation and increase peer support.
- Inclusive Mental Health Services: Ensure that your organization's mental health resources and services are inclusive and equitable. Recognize that different life experiences and identities can impact men's mental health and their ability to access and use mental health services. Adapt your support services to speak to men's experiences and trauma, while considering geographical and cultural contexts.
- Start a Conversation and Listen: Encourage open conversations by asking male employees about their well-being. Inquire about their mental health in a non-judgmental and supportive manner and offer a listening ear to help them process their challenges. If you notice concerning behavioural changes, be empathetic and compassionate. Initiate a conversation in a comfortable and non-confrontational setting.
- Provide Workplace Support: If an employee comes forward with mental health challenges, consider what accommodations or return to work solutions can be provided to support mental health and maximize the employee's function at work.
- Guide the Employee to the Right Supports: Appropriate support will depend on the situation, but resources you may offer include your EAP program, a therapist, or local support groups. Always take suicidal comments seriously. If you believe an employee or co-worker is at immediate risk of suicide, help them contact a crisis line or call 911 immediately.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Our team can provide you with the tools that you need to improve mental health and productivity. If you or an employee are struggling, our Occupational Therapists can provide individualized mental health support to help your team stay healthy and at work. Make a referral today or contact us to learn more.
We also provide mental health training to both managers and employees on a variety of topics, including building resiliency, managing anxiety, reducing burnout, and more. Contact us to learn more about customized group training. Or visit our store for our current public training programs.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4 PM - 12 AM ET). Visit Talk Suicide Canada Community Resources for the distress centres and crisis organizations nearest you. Indigenous peoples across Canada who need immediate crisis intervention can reach experienced and culturally sensitive help line counsellors at 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free) or can connect to the online Hope for Wellness chat.
 Parent, Andrea (2023, January 26). Mental health and men: How to support your loved ones. Red Cross Canada. https://www.redcross.ca/blog/2023/1/mental-health-and-men-how-to-support-your-loved-ones
 Staff, N. I. (2023, May 30). The 5 most common male mental health disorders. https://www.newportinstitute.com/resources/treatment/male-mental-health-disorders/
 Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2022, July). Men’s Mental Health and Suicide in Canada. https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Mens-Mental-Health-and-Suicide-in-Canada-Key-Takeaways.pdf
 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2017, September 7). Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016.pdf
 CMHA Toronto. (2023, April 3). Men’s Mental Health. https://cmhato.org/understanding-mental-health/mens-mental-health/
 Heads Up Guys. Symptoms of Depression. https://headsupguys.org/mens-depression/symptoms/#re5