Men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women in UK, but a new report suggests education on suicide prevention and mental health is starting to pay off.
A new masculinity audit shows men now view their mental health as more important than their physical health, regardless of their age.
The youngest men involved in the survey were found to place the most importance on mental health, with a total of 46.2% of men aged 18-29 saying they consider mental health to be “very important”.
In comparison, just 32.1% of men in the same age group said they believe their physical health is “very important”.
The findings present a sharp contrast to previous audits on masculinity, many of which suggested men were not prioritising their mental health, or perhaps didn’t know how to.
A report conducted by HuffPost UK and charity CALM in 2016 found barely half of men who admitted to feeling “very depressed” had told anyone about it, compared with 67% of women. Meanwhile a survey conducted by Mind earlier this year found 43% of women have taken time off for poor mental health at some point in their career, compared with just 29% of men.
Countless campaigns have sought to raise mental health awareness in recent years, with famous faces from the royal family to Freddie Flintoff getting involved.
While nationwide suicide rates are falling overall, men aged between 40 and 44 continue to have the highest suicide rate in the UK.
However, the masculinity audit of more than 2,000 men, conducted by researchers at the University College London and co-authored by journalist Martin Daubney, indicates a hopeful future for this age group.
Almost half (45.9%) of men aged 40-49 consider their mental health to be “very important” compared to 35.6% who would say the same about their physical health.
Commenting on the findings, Craig Butler, a 24-year-old who writes about his own experiences of depression, said he thinks mental health is “equally important” to physical health.
“For me, my mental health directly impacts my physical health. When my mental health isn’t as good as it could be I tend to look after myself less, which then has a collateral effect on my physical health,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Conversely, having poor physical health can also impact mental health because of demanding societal expectations on how I should look.”
Mental health campaigner and vlogger Joshua Hewitt, 19, agreed that “a balance of both is great” when looking after your physical and mental health.
“The two really do help each other out, with positive mental health putting you in a happier place to focus on your physical health too,” he told HuffPost UK.
Hewitt said in his experience, men are starting to be more open with one another about their mental health.
“It’s so great because we can all help each other and a lot of us can relate. It’s thankfully ending the stigma,” he said.
However, Butler said now is not the time to rest on our laurels, as a culture of silence still surrounds mental health.
“I think it’s changing. I don’t think it’s changing quickly enough and there’s still far too much taboo in the work place that makes it difficult, but in general, I think men are slowly becoming more open about it which is so important,” he said.
The men surveyed were also asked about the core values they aspired to in their professional, personal and private lives.
Attaining the perfect body was the least desired of all core values, with only 7.42% ranking it as very important.
Instead, top of the list of core values were selfless qualities such as reliability and dependability, with 97% of men saying these were moderately to very important to them.
The survey also identified what makes men happiest in life, which the researchers said could be used within strategies to improve mental health.
Among men who were found to be above average in positivity, 78% said they are satisfied with their work, making a rewarding job by far the strongest predictor of positive state of mind.
Having a strong long-term relationship was also found to make men happier than being single.
The researchers said the findings counteract the image of men sometimes presented by the media, in which men are presented as wanting to be single, carefree bachelors.
“Our findings counter the fashionably negative view of men and masculinity as being somewhat tainted by toxicity,” the report reads.
“This distorted view probably impacts how men are treated and how men feel about themselves. A more rounded view of men is needed.”
In a statement Dr John Barry of UCL Department of Psychology, who led the research, added: “There has been a very welcome increase in focus recently on male-specific issues such as the appallingly high male suicide rate and the underachievement of boys and young men in education.
“The findings of this survey provide important insights into what men need to live their lives in a positive way and how they should be represented. The findings should be of enormous interest to policy-makers as they seek improved strategies to address these pressing social problems.”
The research was commissioned by the grooming company Harry’s.