Although this article uses the term “men,” it is meant to include all people who identify as men.

There is a silent epidemic happening when it comes to mental health. Although men suffer from mental health issues, especially concerning workplace stress, very few seek the health practices needed to improve their mental fitness.

According to an article available on Homewood Health's website, “The current climate for men’s mental health has come to a critical point in history, where national strategies need to be made to address the increasing number of men who are experiencing mental health-related challenges.”

In a UBC study where 1,450 men were surveyed between June 2021 and February 2022:

  • 49% of respondents had scored above the threshold for probable depression. 
  • 55% report loneliness, feelings of loneliness and,
  • 35% experienced thoughts of suicidal self-injury at least a few times a week.

Workplace factors and finances — especially post-pandemic — can contribute to men’s poor mental health. 

What is the impact of mental illness in Canada?

Over 450 million people struggle with mental illness worldwide. In Canada, it affects 6.7 million of us, according to the Canadian Association for Mental Health. One in two Canadians has or had a mental illness before age 40. An estimated $51 billion annually goes toward health care and lost productivity, but the non-economical costs are even higher. Over 4,000 Canadians die by suicide every year. People with mental illness and addiction are more likely to die prematurely. Men are less likely to seek help and are diagnosed at half the rate of women. Men are also three to four times more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm due to mental illness.

Why are men not seeking help?

There are two main lines of thought on why men are being underdiagnosed. One is the stigma of mental illness; some people still do not see mental health as health. Even though mental health is stigmatized for both sexes, men tend not to seek help. According to Towergate Health and Protection research, men are half as likely to reach out for workplace emotional support as women. Yet, two in five men (43%) regularly feel worried or unhappy.

The second line of thinking is that underreporting by men is compounded by the socialized ideals of masculinity, which include being strong, self-sufficient, action-oriented, and in control of their lives.

Thinking deeply about their feelings may cause anxiety in men. If their current emotional state does not match the societal definition of masculinity, this can lead to shame, embarrassment and a legitimate fear of being judged. 

“We’ve seen that when it comes to relationship break-ups, men who divorce are eight times more likely to suicide than women,” Dr. John Oliffe from UBC explains, citing financial hardship, severe emotional stress, and isolation from friends, family, and other third-party social supports.

Facts about Canadian men and their mental health:

  • Around 10% of Canadian men experience significant mental health challenges in their lifetime. 
  • Approximately one million Canadian men suffer from major depression each year.
  • On average, approximately 4,000 Canadians take their own life each year, of those suicides; 75% are men.
  • Canadian Indigenous men have a suicide rate that is double that of the Canadian national average, with
  • Inuit men are 11 times above the national average.
  • Gay men have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts.
  • In order of highest to lowest, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have the highest suicide rates among men in Canada.

Ways to Support Men’s Mental Health in the Workplace

Signs to look out for:

Men have difficulty openly addressing their mental health and will not say they are depressed but stressed, irritable and frustrated.

Men express distress by:

  • Escaping: binge-watching shows, excessive time on devices or video games or more severely by overeating, heavy drinking or other excessively indulgent activities.
  • Withdrawal: taking a lot more time to be alone, avoiding social contact, an excessive number of sick days.
  • Externalization: angry, irritable, snapping and easily frustrated, displaying anti-social behaviours toward others.

Other signs to look out for are:

  • Personality changes - mood swings, hostility, irritability and angry behaviour.
  • Inability to cope with minor problems.
  • Differences in their ability to think clearly and coherently articulate their thoughts.

Behavioural changes lasting more than two to four weeks may be signs of distress. This may also be a sign of physical illness, for which you can encourage the person to seek help.

Support You Can Give as a Leader or Coworker

  • Speak to your colleague in a private yet casual setting, such as in a small office or on a walk. Make sure that you listen to learn. One of the most significant issues in seeking help for mental health is the fear of judgment from others, especially for men.
  • Reframe seeking help as a sign of strength, resilience and mental fitness. 
  • If you are a leader, consider being open about any issues you have with mental health, which can help lessen the stigma of mental illness.
  • If your colleague or report is comfortable getting professional help, our current extended health plan covers $1000 for a psychologist’s services.
  • The SFU Employee and Family Assistance Program also gives you and your family access to free, confidential mental health support.
  • There are also practical, science-backed mental resources for men, such as HeadsUpGuys, a resource designed to help men dealing with depression, which typically sees 65,000 visitors each month.