Men and mental health
Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD
Written bytherapist.com team
Last updated: 08/03/2023
Please be advised that this article mentions suicide. If you’re in crisis, help is available now: Call or text the free, confidential 988 Lifeline at 988.
It’s important to remember that gender isn’t binary. However, people who identify as men—regardless of their assigned sex at birth—often face challenges due to norms and expectations around masculinity. In addition, the way people expect boys and men to express themselves can make it harder for them to talk about their feelings and ask for help.
Fewer than half of men with signs of anxiety or depression seek treatment from a mental health professional—and men are likelier than women to use illegal drugs, overdose on substances, and visit the emergency room due to drug use.1, 2 The suicide rate for men is about four times higher than women’s, with men over 65 having the highest overall rate.3, 4
In a positive shift, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more men started engaging with mental health care, especially for challenges related to family and relationships. The number of mental health care visits among men increased about 5.5 times from 2019 to 2020.5
How does being a man affect mental health?
Each man’s mental health is shaped by his unique life circumstances, including genetics, family relationships, and experiences with trauma. Physiology, identity, and culture also play a role.
As with women, men’s hormones can affect their mood, and those hormones fluctuate and change over time. Testosterone, a hormone associated with aggression, libido, and risk-taking, usually goes through a daily cycle of highs and lows. Men’s testosterone levels also tend to decline with age, which can contribute to depression, sadness, or problems with memory and concentration.
Men who struggle with who they are and how they fit in with society may experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including men, often face discrimination, exclusion, and threats to their welfare. They may suppress parts of who they are to conform and stay safe. In addition to these and other stresses, transgender men—men who were assigned female at birth—may encounter barriers to transitioning and accessing appropriate health care.
Men of color regularly face stress and trauma due to racism, and mental health stigma and racial disparities in mental health care can be roadblocks to getting treatment. In one study, only 26.4% of Black and Latino men age 18 to 44 sought mental health care for their daily feelings of depression or anxiety, compared to 45.4% of white men with the same feelings.6
Men with disabilities often face unequal access and discrimination in employment, housing, health care, and insurance coverage. In addition, physical challenges like immobility or chronic pain, and social challenges like isolation and lack of understanding from family and friends, can impact their mental health.
Social and cultural factors
Masculinity has long been associated with success, power, and control. While many people are learning to move beyond these stereotypes, others are doubling down on traditional ideas about how men should act and be treated.
Patriarchy, or the traditional belief that men should have authority over others, leads to sexist attitudes and behaviors. It also harms men’s mental health: Men who buy into destructive patriarchal ideals like being aggressive and in control are more likely to become socially isolated as they get older.7
Mental health stigmas prevent many men from seeking help for mental health issues. Men may feel they have to be strong and self-reliant. They may also buy into the belief that getting help for a mental health problem makes them weak or somehow less masculine. In one study of people’s experiences with suicidal ideation and depression, more men than women admitted to feeling embarrassed about looking for professional help.9
Many men learn that their value comes from working hard, earning high wages, and providing for their families. This expectation can make employment issues like job loss, financial strain, and workplace stress harder on men’s mental health. Studies show that men in male-dominated workplaces may be especially vulnerable to depression.10
Stereotyped masculinity plays a role in how men deal with relationship problems. Many men isolate themselves rather than ask for help, or they turn toward substances like alcohol to deal with feelings of anger, sadness, regret, guilt, and shame. Relationship distress, including marital separation and divorce, is hard regardless of gender, but research suggests it puts men at an increased risk of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and suicide.11
Social isolation is a common problem for men, especially as they get older. Close friendships have been decreasing for decades, but men have seen a steeper decline: The majority have just three close friends, compared to at least six 30 years ago.12 Single men are at higher risk of social isolation, and living alone increases their risk of suicidal ideation.13
How age affects men’s mental health
Although mental health problems can happen at any age, some issues tend to be more common in specific age groups.
During childhood, boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).14 Both disorders can cause significant behavioral, emotional, and adaptive problems.
As adolescents and young adults, boys and men are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking alcohol, using drugs, driving recklessly, and dying by suicide.15, 16 Schizophrenia may also develop during this stage—90% of people diagnosed before age 30 are men.17
Middle-age men may experience work-related stress and anxiety, financial problems, relationship and family difficulties, and physical health problems. Many men go through a “midlife crisis,” which typically involves dissatisfaction with life and a fear of getting older. Although it’s more of a social phenomenon than a mental illness, a midlife crisis can lead many men to act impulsively and take risks they wouldn’t normally take.
Older men are at risk for isolation and depression.18 They may have to come to terms with the deaths of friends and loved ones, as well as their own declining health.
Consequences of mental health problems
Mental health problems often have a ripple effect. For instance, men who face stigma around seeking mental health treatment may use alcohol or drugs to cope, which then affects their work performance, home life, and relationships. Substance abuse is a major public health problem in the United States, and men account for the vast majority of cases.19 This has been linked to outcomes including aggression, violence, sexual assault, and traffic accidents, as well as physical health problems like cancer.
Common signs that a man may be struggling
Signs that a man may be having mental health problems include:
- Anger, irritability, restlessness, or aggressive behavior
- Drastic changes in mood, energy, appetite, or sleep
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Increased or persistent worry or stress
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Increased use or misuse of alcohol or drugs
- Involvement in high-risk activities
- Inexplicable body aches, headaches, or digestive problems
- Suicidal thoughts
How men can protect their mental health
The steps below can help people of any gender protect their mental health, but they may be especially useful for men.
Challenge the “man up” mindset. It’s important to understand that it’s okay to not be okay, and that reaching out for help is a courageous thing to do.
Build a support network. Connecting with friends, family, and others can help you feel less alone. Support groups in particular can be a safe space to share experiences and interact in positive new ways.20
Watch out for unhealthy habits. Smoking, drinking, using drugs, and other risky behaviors can all contribute to mental health problems or make existing issues worse.
Replace unhealthy habits with healthier ones. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can help you manage stress better and avoid turning toward unhealthy coping mechanisms when times are tough.
Talk to someone you trust. Learning how to express and deal with emotions in a healthy way is an important step toward well-being. Talking to a trusted partner, friend, family member, therapist, or doctor can help you better understand and manage your feelings.
It’s never too late to get support for your mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling, browse our directory to find a therapist near you today.
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About the author
The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.
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