In a survey of over 1000 boys and young men by stem4, researchers found that fear or shame of feeling or being perceived as ‘weak’ is meaning many young boys and men are not seeking help for their mental health problems. The research also found that many are not given the help, even when they do ask for it.

“As you get older no one cares about your mental health, so you say you're OK when you're not, because you're supposed to be a man. And men aren't supposed to have emotions. Parents push toxic masculinity onto their children. It messes their head up later in life. But who really cares that we're suffering?” 16-year-old schoolboy, London.

Of those surveyed, over a third (37%) between the ages of 14 and 21 expressed that they were currently experiencing mental health difficulties

Out of this percentage, over half had not spoken to anyone in their life about how they were feeling, only 21% were receiving treatment and a further 29% has asked for help but were receiving no treatment.

The survey revealed that the most prevalent mental health difficulties were:

  • stress (47%)
  • depression or low mood (33%)
  • anxiety (27%)

While other commonly mentioned problems included:

  • eating disorders (11%)
  • anger and behavioural problems (10%)
  • self-harming behaviours (9%)

Most worryingly, researchers for stem4 found that nearly half (46%) of respondents wouldn’t ask for help if they were upset, anxious or depressed, even if things were to get ‘really bad’. The survey asked respondents why they might not seek help when feeling the aforementioned issues; 36% said they didn’t have the courage, 32% said they ‘didn’t want to make a fuss’ and 30% sad they would feel weak or ashamed. Over 20% said they were worried about being ridiculed if others found out, or that people would think less of them, and 14% said doing so would make them feel ‘less masculine’.

“There is support, but it's difficult to talk about mental health issues when you get laughed at.” 16-year-old Schoolboy, Northeast.

15% said they don’t know how to ask for help

The survey also focused on how societal and cultural factors might affect boys and young men and how this interacts with how they perceive mental health. Many said they felt boys and young men are consistently negatively portrayed in the media, and almost half (46%) articulated feeling ‘pressure from peers to behave in a dominant, masculine way’, and that this had a negative impact on their mental health.

Interestingly, the survey identified that a quarter of young boys and men felt that being associated with peers who treat girls and women disrespectfully was a factor that was most likely to damage their mental health. Other prevalent factors were: loneliness, bullying, and pressure around body image or feeling like they have to have a ‘good’ body.

CEO and founder of stem4, Consultan Clinical Psychologist, Dr Nihara Krause, said of this recent research, “We live in a culture that puts huge pressure on boys and young men to behave in particular ways, many of them damaging to their mental health. Our survey shows exactly why this is so damaging, with many suffering in silence, even when they’re approaching crisis point. If we’re going to tackle boys and young men’s mental health, we have to address the cultural blind spots to male mental health. It’s also time to start listening properly to boys and men, understand how they express their needs, and provide services that will benefit them.”

Only 37% of boys surveyed said they would feel able to approach their family if they were experiencing mental health problems and in turn, 72% of parents say they feel ill-equipped to manage their child’s mental health difficulties or know how to respond. Services such as CAMHS are under more pressure than ever to deal with this mounting crisis and many parents say they are being left to fend for themselves, without the skill or knowledge necessary.

The survey came up with the following positive steps that should be put in place to improve and protect the mental health of young boys and men:

  • Regular mental health check-ups (just like going to the dentist)
  • Safe places in which to ask for help
  • One-on-one in person treatment to speak to therapists, not group sessions
  • Better PSHE education in schools, not from a textbook, with practical guidance on how to ask for help
  • Education for families on how to spot early signs of mental ill health, and how to talk to their children
  • Better, faster access to treatment
  • Recognition that loneliness is real for boys and young men, and that they are not a tough as they portray

As Dr Krause also pointed out, this survey is evidence of just how much pressure boys and young men are under to behave in a way that is considered ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’, which frequently boils down to ‘not behaving like a girl/woman’, ‘not seeming weak’. The pressure of hyper-masculinity and toxic masculinity debilitates men from seeking the help they so desperately need, even when they are reaching crisis; as such, in order to address the mental health crisis facing young boys and men today we must address this first.