Boys don’t cry, or at least they’re not supposed to

Young men in crisis may not be crying out for help. But it’s desperately needed

Greater mental health support for young men could help save lives, yet vital services continue to be targeted for cuts

• Jonny Benjamin: Don’t tell me the mental health system isn’t in crisis – I’ve been in it

Owen-JonesOwen Jones,

Wednesday 2 July 2014

silhouette of man/male on wall, cast by orange light /sunset.Suicide is now the main cause of death for men aged 20-34, and while the male suicide rate was 1.9 times higher than women in 1981, it is now 3.3 times higher. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Alamy

Boys don’t cry, or at least they’re not supposed to. Yes, the old, unreconstructed machismo that was once all too synonymous with being a man has been partly driven back; men are more likely to open up and talk about their feelings. But discussing anxiety, depression and mental distress is still seen as weak or unmanly; the pressure to “man up” and “stop being such a woman” remains pervasive. And let’s be frank: these expectations are killing all too many men.

In today’s Guardian, John Ashton, the president of UK Faculty of Public Health, rightly raises the plight of young men. A glance at Britain’ssuicide rates will quickly dispel any doubts about his concerns: in 2012, there were 5,981 suicides in people aged 15 and over, and 4,590 of them were men. Suicide is now the main cause of death for men aged 20-34, and while the male suicide rate was 1.9 times higher than women in 1981, it is now 3.3 times higher. And as Ashton says, “We’re not preventing problems in young people and we’re not responding to them when they get them.”

Ashton raises a number of factors fuelling the mental health crisis of young men. That’s important: mental health charities are always keen to emphasise that it is wrong to attribute any one cause to a suicide, for example. One of his suggestions is that men have experienced “dislocation” as they have increasingly lost their role as breadwinners. The fact that Britain’s de-industrialisation was more rapid and complete than in many other western countries must surely be a factor: skilled apprenticeships are not awaiting many of the young men now leaving school, and being unemployed at a young age leads to higher risks of anxiety and depression.

But while rising social and economic insecurities increasingly disrupt the lives of young people regardless of gender, our young men and women respond very differently. Even though women are more likely to suffer from depression, they are also more likely to do something about it. Eighty percent of women who end their own lives have turned to a doctor and received treatment; but just half of men do, and for those under 25, the rate is just 20%. Even though the women’s and LGBT movements have changed what it is to be a man for the better, men are still keeping quiet as their mental health is battered by an ever more insecure world.

Our mental health services are failing them, too. One of the main problems with Britain’s public health policy is that it is geared to treating illnesses and diseases as they happen, rather than preventing them from happening in the first place – which is good news for the big drugs companies.

But those who suffer are not getting the help they need. Just a quarter of children with mental distress are receiving the treatment they require, and earlier this year six mental health organisations warned that cuts to NHS mental health services are endangering lives. Mental health trusts are expected to make cuts amounting to a fifth more than hospitals to their budgets next year; and services such as early intervention programmes aimed at young people are increasingly being slashed. Mental health services have cut beds by 9% in the past three years, and mental health trusts are spending huge sums of public money putting patients in bed and breakfasts. It may be unsaid, but the stigma of mental distress clearly makes such services far easier to attack.

Male stereotypes, rising socio-economic insecurity, cutbacks: put these factors together, and the risk is that thousands of lives are endangered in the coming years. Every suicide is a tragedy – but an avoidable, not an inevitable, tragedy.

Credit: Owen Jones  Guardian Newspaper :

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