Men may be less likely to seek professional help

What are the factors that prevent men from seeking help? Is there a gender difference in the way men and women cope? What measures can promote help seeking?

Aaheli Dasgupta

A survey by the Mental Health Foundation UK, found that about 28% of men had not sought help compared to 19% of women for any mental health issues they faced in the past month. Research spanning over a few decades focused on understanding help-seeking have found that men are less likely to seek professional help compared to women. Given that there was a lack of studies pertaining to gender and help-seeking in India, we spoke to various experts about the trend.

Does the prevalence of mental health differ across gender?

These are a few statistics from the National Mental Health Survey that was conducted by the National Institute Of Mental Health And Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in 2015:

  • Around 16.75% men will experience some mental health issue in their lifetime, as opposed to 10.80% women

  • The current prevalence of mental health issues in men is around 13.9% as opposed to 7.47% in women

  • Around 2.15% men will suffer from serious mental health issues like Bipolar Affective Disorder and psychotic disorders in a lifetime, compared to 1.73% among women

  • 35.67% of men have been diagnosed with substance use disorder as against 10.05% women.

The numbers clearly indicate there is a great need to focus on men's mental health and understand their help-seeking tendencies. 

Reasons behind lack of help-seeking

Despite there being a higher prevalence of mental health issues in men, there seems to be gap when it comes to seeking help. Men are less likely to reach out and seek help. Some of the reasons researchers have explored are:

Conforming to traditional gender roles: At a very young age, society teaches us what are appropriate behaviors for our respective gender. “Men are generally under pressure to not show vulnerability as the traditional idea of a man is that of a protector/provider. Men will usually reach out when it starts to affect their productivity and will drop out as soon as the distress is resolved,” says Paras Sharma, counseling psychologist. Men are often taught to restrict their emotional expression, and focus largely on being successful and powerful. Therefore, many view asking for help as a sign of weakness.

Perceived loss of control:  Men may be more likely to try and fix the problems themselves because they believe the problem exists within them and they can control it. Asking help then can result in a loss of autonomy or control.

Reciprocity: One of the factors that determine whether men may or may not seek help is the ability to offer something in return. This is to say some men will reach out in a distressing time if they feel they can offer something to the person they are seeking help from, at some point in the future. Research has attributed this to ‘maintaining of status’ and ‘preserving the image of being strong and competent’. 

Social support: Social support can play a significant role in determining whether one will seek help. Research has found that men tend to find it harder to reach out because most of their social circles are focused on shared activities rather than emotional support. Therefore, most men may try to resolve feelings of distress by themselves.

Men and women cope differently

Another important point to note is that men and women may choose to deal with stress differently. Dr Mahesh Gowda, practicing psychiatrist, director of Spandana Healthcare says, “I notice there is a difference in threshold when it comes to the two sexes; women are open to seeking help for minor issues whereas men will only seek help when things get out of hand.”

One study has found that men tend to use more problem-focused strategies that involve tackling the problem head-on through action. Women, on the other hand, tend to use more emotion-focused strategies to deal with problems, preferring to deal with the negative emotions that accompany the problem.

“Most men you will talk to are solution giving and solution seeking, it is very difficult for them to find the vocabulary to express themselves,” says Nelson Vinod Moses, founder, Suicide Prevention India Foundation. Women may, therefore, find it easier to talk about their problems and resolve negative feelings associated with them (such as anxiety and sadness) compared to men.

Promoting help-seeking

Here are a few things that friends and family may use to facilitate help-seeking in men as discussed in a report by the Youth Justice Department, Glasgow: 

  • Using compassion to listen to the person sharing their problems

  • Having them attend more health literacy and awareness programs

  • Recommending a trustworthy therapist who will act as a positive reinforcer to seek help

  • Give them a sense of control when it comes to choosing their treatment or interventions