Men’s mental health is my passion. I have studied the area for a number of years now whilst studying for my doctorate in counselling psychology. You can actually check out a blog post I did on men’s mental health by clicking here.
I recently heard that BPS members will have the opportunity to vote for a male psychology section, devoted to establishing an understanding and appreciation of men’s mental health and the barriers men experience in accessing therapeutic services.
I see both sides of the argument. I welcome the idea that men need more attention in research and more support in the practical implementation of therapy. I understand that a male-specific section of the BPS may facilitate this.
However, I have reservations that this may marginalise men and their mental health further, that it may segregate them further from the main body of psychological research and practical therapy. I also feel that men’s mental health is a priority for psychologist working in any form of mental health, and so am concerned that focus on men may become secondary due to an isolated branch being devoted to male psychology.
My mind is still to be made up.
However, I recently read an article about why we do not need a male-specific section of the BPS. You can read the article here – https://notomalepsych.wordpress.com/men-and-mental-health/
This article outlines a number of ‘myths’ about men’s mental health and uses that as a basis for not having the specific section in the BPS for male psychology.
I felt compelled to write a response.
What worries me about perceptions as ones outlined in this article is that there seem to be attempts to critique the very nature of men’s lived experiences of mental health in today’s world.
These ‘myths’ are as follows:
- Myth #1
- Men are more likely to have mental health issues than women.
- Myth #2
- Men find it more difficult to access mental health services than women
- Myth #3
- Mental health provision is designed for women/no one ever talks about men’s mental health
I was struck by the attempts to display the challenges men face in mental health as ‘myths’. In my view, and in the view of many others, they are far from this. Men experience barriers to accessing therapy on numerous fronts, from zero-sum gender beliefs to stigma to hegemonic masculine identities.
Not only this but the research, which has been growing over the years although focussed more on a quantitative standpoint, is still lacking in its understanding and appreciation of men’s mental health.
The lack of qualitative research that seeks to establish thorough appreciations of men’s lived experience of mental health and therapeutic uptake barriers, is profound and cannot be ignored.
Allow me to go into detail about where I think this articles perceptions falter:
This article seems to infer that men are not more likely to suffer from mental illness than women but gives no sound reasoning for this assumption.
This article states that men are more likely to be diagnosed with personality disorders and women more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
With regards to the statistics, this has got some grounds in a sound understanding of the differences in diagnoses between men and women.
However, the article attempts to justify this with the following:
“This might be due to gender bias on part of those who diagnose”
An inference that can really only be based on assumption. If this is the case, I see no way in understanding how this gets us closer to appreciating how there is no difference between men and women with regards to the lived experience of mental health.
In part, I see some of the justification in the argument for this first ‘myth’. Men may very well experience some mental health illnesses on the same level as women, I am not refuting this.
However, there has been no consideration made of the fact that stigmatisation in men accessing help is not reserved only for therapeutic services.
The research shows that men suffer barriers in accessing any kind of medical help, this includes diagnosis of mental health illnesses. Perhaps those that wrote this article are aware of this, it cannot, however, be used as justification to infer that women must as a result experience mental health challenges on the same level.
My point here is that it may very well be the case that mental illness experiences are the same for both men and women. However, currently, we simply do not know due to lack of research and lack of understanding of the stigmatised barriers men experience in accessing diagnosis and therapy.
We, therefore, cannot make assumptions on this basis.
This article makes comment to the perception that men suffer more challenges in accessing therapy than women. This article infers that this is not the case and that challenges in therapeutic uptake are the same for every group.
As for backing for this argument, this article goes into some detail about methodological issues with the empirical literature that attempts to outline this fact.
In doing so, the article concludes that we cannot infer that therapeutic uptake is more challenging for men than women.
My first issues with this are that barriers to therapeutic access for men are arguably one of the main factors that we see growth rates of male suicide and mental health in today’s society.
My second issue is that conclusions refuting factual information cannot be drawn from methodological inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
We should by all means critique studies and their findings, we should find holes in the work already established. However, unless the findings are starkly inaccurate and overemphasised, we cannot use this critique as grounds for disputing all findings. We can only use the critique to develop new and more robust empirical research.
The article goes on to make the comment that men of all identities are not equally appreciated in the men’s mental health literature. I completely agree.
However, if anything, I feel this reinforces the argument for a male psychology section, where if established, I would hope would take on the responsibility for representing all cohorts of men. Something where I too feel the research is lacking. I do not see how this is grounds for the lack of need for a male psychology section of the BPS, however.
This article goes on to state that middle-class men’s barriers to accessing therapy have more to do with Western ideologies than their male gender identity.
They reference Farrimond (2012) in backing the following argument:
“Indeed, even among the middle class, white men it is less their gender that stops them from accessing healthcare but rather the increasing pressures on citizens in the West to be responsible, in control and not burdens on others with regard to their health”
I find this an interesting argument. The points may be valid but I again feel that the hegemonic traditional male role identity cannot be ignored here.
The provider, the representation of ‘strength’ is still a toxic identity held onto by many men and really should be considered when making arguments as above.
The article goes on to state that focus should be centred on refuting the incessant financial governmental cuts to mental health services in our country.
I totally agree that this is a factor and one that all mental health professionals should oppose.
It also, if achieved, would, of course, better the treatment and diagnosis of men suffering from mental health challenges, as it would for all demographics.
However, to state that this should be the primary focus, and abandoning attempts to better appreciate the forgotten issue of men’s mental health is not valid.
It is not a case of one without the other, we can fight for better financial support for mental health treatment and better understandings of men’s mental health.
Also, one without the other will ultimately result in poorer service and appreciation for the men who suffer in silence.
This article goes into an argument about the centrality that men play in TV campaigns, conferences and advertisement when talking about mental health.
More recently, but not historically, this may be the case, but it is because of all the points I have gone into above.
On the basis of this articles inaccurate suggestions, no wonder they have come to the conclusion that men should not be as prominent as they are in mental health campaigns.
The issue is, however, that their arguments are not supported. Men suffer constantly in silence from mental issues, they experience barriers unlike many demographics in accessing therapy and diagnosis for mental health illnesses and they are currently far more likely to take their own lives than other groups.
Regardless of your views on the proposed specific male psychology section in the BPS, let those views be determined by how you think men could be treated best (with or without the proposed section). Do not let those views be altered or influenced by inaccurate arguments and evidence.