Scientists assess men’s reluctance to seek mental health treatment

Mental Health
© iStock/urbazon

A research team from the University of Gothenburg has investigated male reluctance to receive mental health treatment.

Why are men hesitant to obtain mental health treatment?

A majority of men who suffer with mental health problems do not seek mental health treatment for their symptoms. Both knowledge of and attitudes toward mental illnesses contribute towards this disinclination, as does the men’s educational level.

Previous research has revealed that approximately 10% of men in high-income countries are impacted by depression or an anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives. The new thesis by Sara Blom, PhD at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, demonstrates that men encounter obstacles that make it more difficult for them to obtain mental health treatment for what they need, when compared to women.

How was this data accumulated?

Blom’s thesis is constructed from questionnaire surveys among population samples in two Swedish regions, Västra, Götaland and Stockholm, in 2008, 2014, and 2019. In total, there were 8,697 respondents, both male and female.

Some of her findings revealed:

  • Even if they acknowledged their need of mental healthcare, the men refrained from seeking care more often than the women (36% and 26% respectively);
  • After seeking mental healthcare, the men were also somewhat more dissatisfied with the care they had received (29% thought it had not been what they needed, against 26% of the women); and
  • Of the men who had symptoms of depression, 40% felt they had no need of mental healthcare (against 25% of the women).

Therefore, Blom’s thesis demonstrates that, to a greater extent than women, men are impeded by obstacles at various stages in the care-seeking process.

What does this data mean?

“On several levels, men seem to face impediments to a higher degree than women. First, they realise less often that they need mental health treatment. Second, even when they know they need it, they seek it to a lesser extent.

“And third, they more often think afterwards that they have not received the care they needed. Since men face obstacles every step of the way in the care-seeking process, many of them fall by the wayside and do not get treatment they need,” Blom explained.

Thus, Blom’s thesis highlights not only the gender differences, but also the differences among the male respondents, with certain subgroups facing considerable barriers. Those who had not studied in higher education and those with a low level of knowledge about mental health treatment were discovered to be the most reluctant to seek care.

Additionally, men were also discovered to receive more negative connotations than women toward depression – more men than women stated that they would not employ a person who they knew had been depressed. The men were also more sceptical than the women about sick leave for someone with symptoms of depression, partly because of the men’s more negative attitudes towards mental health treatment.

What steps need to be taken to encourage men to obtain treatment?

Under the Swedish Health and Medical Services Act, care must be provided according to requirement. However, the thesis demonstrates that many men do not seek mental health treatment, despite requiring it. Her thesis indicates that the path to mental healthcare for men with mental ill health could be facilitated with greater knowledge and a decrease in negative attitudes.

“This is problematic, since it could lead to more severe consequences of mental ill health in the groups that does not seek care, such as alcohol problems and suicide,” Blom concluded. “The fact that many do not perceive their own mental healthcare needs, despite their symptoms, indicates that the care services should work on an outreach basis and to build trust.

“Knowledge of how barriers to care interact with masculinity norms — among individuals, in the healthcare services and in society at large — is also required. A combination of wide-ranging efforts at population level and more targeted measures aimed at men with relatively low educational attainment, for example, is probably necessary.”

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