Men’s health: Breaking the stigma of masculine identity and help-seeking

November, with awareness initiatives such as “Movember” and International Men’s Day is becoming a time to focus on men’s health. We look at the effects of gender stereotypes and stigmas attached to being “a man” and seeking help on men’s health.

The deep-seated expectations set by society and traditional gender roles can impact men’s ability to talk about their health struggles, be that physical health or mental health. It’s common knowledge that stereotypes and societal norms can be harmful to women. However, we often overlook the fact that these expectations can also have devastating effects on men and their ability to be open and honest about what is really going on with themselves.

Experts have observed that taking care of one’s health is closely connected to societal expectations of gender, with certain healthy behaviours and beliefs being viewed as “feminine.” 

Men are often taught to prioritise self-reliance, emotional control, avoiding dependence, and physical toughness as essential traits of being a man in Western society.

Studies have found that men who conform more to these traditional gender roles tend to have a more negative attitude towards seeking help. This presents a challenge for promoting men’s health and wellbeing, as these attitudes clash with seeking medical help when needed. Addressing this cultural issue is essential for improving men’s health outcomes.

Research has shown that men are willing to seek help if the resources are accessible, engaging, and modified to their preferences.

Gavin Danby-Cooper (Communications Officer), Michael Coppock, Mental Health Clinical Team Lead
Gavin Danby-Cooper (Communications Officer), Michael Coppock (Mental Health Clinical Team Lead)

Michael Coppock, Mental Health Clinical Team Lead at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said:

We are learning more about how the pandemic, economic pressures, and cultural strains have affected men in the North East of England. This article explains the specific challenges men face and how staff awareness can help with their care and treatment. The statistics show that men’s mental health needs more attention to prevent avoidable issues and crises. Gateshead Health is actively involved in raising awareness and learning about this issue from the ground up. I am proud to work in such an environment that approaches men’s health with genuine care, empathy, and a commitment to innovation.

Michael Coppock, Mental Health Clinical Team Lead

Medical resources for men are becoming more accessible and tailored towards overcoming the social stigma that has hindered men from seeking help when needed. This is an encouraging step towards breaking down the negative stigma that has historically discouraged men from seeking help when required.

For example, Gateshead Health is committed to ensuring that individuals of all genders are provided with comprehensive and tailored mental health services that meet their specific needs. This is known as “parity of esteem,” a term that signifies equal recognition and treatment of mental health conditions regardless of a person’s gender identity.

Only some things related to men’s health rely on a service or a drastic medical intervention. We are starting to see a more holistic approach to male self-care and maintaining your wellbeing through straightforward, understandable health advice. An example of a shift in attitude towards what makes up a healthier male personality structure.

For example, the Men’s Health Forum organisation has run a campaign entitled The CAN DO Challenge, which is made up of five things we can all do (not just men) that are scientifically-proven to help us feel better.

The CAN DO Challenge invites you to do all five of them.​

The five ways are:

  • Connect – connect with other people (e.g. call an old friend or family member)
  • (Be) Active – move your body (e.g. go for a run/walk/swim/dance/etc)
  • Notice – take notice of the environment around you (e.g. turn off your phone for an hour and look around)
  • Discover – learn something new (e.g. read a book you haven’t read before)
  • Offer (or give) – do something for someone else (e.g. volunteer for a local community group)

Understanding and taking onboard practical advice is becoming more prevalent among men. In contrast, before, men may have historically turned to harmful coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, or other harmful outlets instead of seeking support from loved ones or medical professionals.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in the availability of support groups that focus on men and their mental health battles. One such group is Men’s Sheds, which provides a communal area for men to talk about their emotions while participating in practical tasks. The positive effect on men who have begun to communicate and open up through services like Men’s Sheds has been remarkable, with the group reporting a significant 89% reduction in depression among its members.

Another example of tailoring services to specific requirements in order help break the stigma around the discussion of mental health is Gateshead Health’s recent Share Your Story Gateshead campaign, led by Health and Wellbeing Lead Dale Jones.

Deciding to talk and communicate emotions is vital to moving past something or working through difficulties. If you feel affected by the topics discussed here, please consider reaching out to one of the following services available for all men in the Gateshead region.

Gateshead Talking Therapies

NHS Health Check

Andys Man Club

Mens Sheds

Man Health

We Are With You

Talk to Frank