According to a 2017 Ipsos report, women, millennials, and people with low incomes are the Canadians at the highest risk for mental health issues. The report states that while 41 per cent of Canadians are classified as being “high risk” for mental illness, these three groups are particularly susceptible.
However, the issue is by no means limited to these groups. Regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status, Canadians are dealing with more stress and have increasing rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. The Ipsos report also indicates that 36 per cent of Canadians said that they felt stressed to the point where it impacted their daily lives several times throughout the year.
An additional 24 per cent of respondents said that there were numerous times throughout the year in which they were so stressed that they were unable to cope. Almost one in five people responded that they felt sad and hopeless nearly every day for two weeks or longer. The report also says that an additional seven per cent of Canadians seriously considered self harm or suicide more than once in the previous year.
Another 2012 report compiled by Statistics Canada found people between the ages of 45 and 59 have the highest rates of suicide and account for 45 per cent of all suicides in Canada — regardless of biological sex.
People between the ages of 15 and 39 were the next age group found to be at a higher risk of suicide — making up 35 per cent of all of suicides in Canada. However, more concerning about this demographic is the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death in people between 15 and 35, following only accidents.
Research shows that women are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders than men, who encounter substance abuse more. Women are also three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their male counterparts.
But, this is where it gets complicated. While men are less likely to attempt suicide, they are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. A 2018 article published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada states that 80 per cent of people who die by suicide are men. The report also explains, “While rates of mental illness are comparable between men and women, men are less likely to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment for their illness.”
Which brings into question almost all of the statistics we have on the rates of mental illness in Canadian men. If men are less likely to recognize and seek help for their mental illness, how do we know that the statistics — largely based on self-report measures, or rates of diagnoses — citing women, millenials, and people with low incomes as the groups at the highest risk of mental health issues, are accurate? And moreover, why are Canadian men less likely to address their own mental health and wellbeing?
One answer is suggested in an article published by the Canadian Mental Health Commission citing the work of Dr. Michael Myers. Myers, a psychiatrist and clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, says, “In men, mental illness can be masked. We’ve known for decades that women are more apt to recognize illness of any sort and go to their doctor. This doesn’t mean women are healthier, but that some men just repress it. We believe a lot of somatization (symptoms) in men, for example, migraines, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, is rooted in depression.”
Tyler Roberge is a psychology major currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science at Florida State University. Outside of his studies, the 22-year-old loves fitness and architecture. Like many, he has struggled with his mental health.
Roberge explains that his struggles with mental health “manifests mainly with anxiety, which can trigger other symptoms such as depression. What started as body dysmorphia in high school lead to performance anxiety in both school and sports, and eventually lead into social anxiety.”
While Roberge is very open about his personal mental health experiences, he says it has not always been easy to talk about them and understands why many men find it particularly difficult to to recognize and admit that they are struggling with their mental health.
“I feel there is a stigma associated with mental health problems in men, as it is viewed as a sign of weakness (which according to society, is not ‘manly’). Men have been portrayed as emotionally strong and in the past have been taught to suppress their emotions. I believe that suppression is something that is also leading to mental health problems.”
He also believes that opening up about these issues looks different for men.
“I feel that because of the societal norm that men are not to show emotions, when they express their mental health issues, the severity gets downplayed because men are ‘not supposed’ to have these issues … we’re told to ‘suck it up,’” Roberge says.
According to the findings of focus groups conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, “men described their own symptoms of depression without realizing they were depressed.” In addition, they did not make connections between their physical symptoms — such as headaches, digestive problems and chronic pain — and their mental health.
“While rates of mental illness are comparable between men and women, men are less likely to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment for their illness.”
— Mental Health Commission of Canada
Roberge says that one of the most difficult obstacles he has faced in dealing with his mental health was his own notions of mental health and masculinity.
“Personally I have had the best support with my mental health, once I learned to accept it and express my difficulties with family and friends. My only stigma I have faced was internal, telling myself to ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it.’ Since then I have been able to come to terms with my mental health, and learn to walk hand-in-hand with it, reminding myself that each day is a new day and that I’m not broken for feeling this way,” says Roberge.
He says that one of the ways he has learned to manage his personal mental health is to “surround myself with supportive people who even though my brain might be telling me that I’m worthless and that people don’t care, they truly do and show that love daily. I also learned how to better cope with it, with self affirmations and learning to accept that the bad days don’t define me as a person.”
“My advice for others going through mental health issues is that you’re not alone, find your support group, and don’t let the bad days define you,” says Roberge “Lastly, if it gets to a point that that support and acceptance are not working, please don’t be afraid to get help!”
According to the Toronto Men’s Health Network (TMHN) and Dr. Don McCreary — co-chair of TMHN, associate editor of the International Journal of Men’s Health, and one of a small handful of men’s health researchers in Canada — the very concept of “men’s health” is relatively new in Canada.
Dr. McCreary says that raising awareness about men’s mental health, in particular, their susceptibility to depression, “may help in terms of reducing the stigma attached to mental health.”
While there is no doubt that many Canadians, regardless of their demographic, are grappling with their mental health, men in particular are at heightened risk of suicide and depression, while also being the group that is least likely to recognize and seek help for their mental health.
The stigma around seeking help for mental health, whether real or internalized, continues to negatively affect hundreds of thousands of Canadian men every year. Opening up conversations around mental health, and actively enforcing the fact that mental health is not “weak,” or “unmanly,” but rather just another aspect of overall health that requires attention and care, is key. It’s time to bring the issue of men’s mental health out of the shadows and into the light. The lives of thousands of Canadian men depend on it.