Men's Health Week: What are the biggest issues facing young men today?
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9th – 15th June is Men’s Health Week, led by the Men’s Health Forum. This year’s theme is work, including stress and unemployment – something that is likely to be particularly prevalent for students and recent graduates. With 11% of men who graduated in 2012 unemployed a year after completion of their course (according to The Independent, July 2013), we spoke to the charity to see what particular issues they have identified as being the biggest cause of stress for young men today. The Men’s Health Forum’s Untold Problems report believes that “men as a sex face specific emotional and mental difficulties that society commonly misunderstands.” These issues include drug and alcohol dependency, school failure, suicide risk and involvement in crime, and together they conspire to make it “immensely challenging to engage men in a dialogue that encourages them to ask themselves whether they should be seeking help.” The stats are difficult to deny: almost three quarters of people who kill themselves are men. 73% of adults who “go missing” are men. Men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (6% vs. 2%), and are more than twice as likely to use Class A drugs (4.8% vs. 2%). 79% of drug-related deaths occur in men, they make up 94% of the prison population, and nearly all children permanently excluded from school are male. 72% of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders, and men are also twice as likely to be victims of violent crime. The report throws up a wide-ranging and deep-rooted set of problems that are specific to men, from relationships to job satisfaction to alcohol abuse – all of which are, of course, interlinked. Education It’s well known that boys are less likely to go to university than girls (32% of state-educated women are in Higher Education at the age of 19 compared to 25% of men). The report confirms that this is a particular problem for both white and Afro-Caribbean boys from poorer families, who “are doing particularly badly” and are “the least likely to be represented in HE.” The comparatively low attainment is seen in secondary school: white males have 30% below average attainment at GCSE, whilst for young Caribbean men it is 33%. The report suggests that this may be because “boys feel compelled to conform to a dominant view of masculinity which conceptualises academic work as ‘feminine’, and that ‘anti-school subcultures’ exist among boys from the most marginalised backgrounds - in which ‘specific forms of masculinity’ are manifested, in particular, by disruptive behaviour in class.” Alcohol and drugs Untold Problem states that “Male alcohol problems in particular may be under-considered. It is believed that up to 800,000 men may be alcohol dependent... in the minds of some men, drinking alcohol in quantity functions as a marker of masculine status.” If this suggestion is representative of your own university experience, it’s hardly surprising. A 2006 study by the Mental Health Foundation found men more likely than women to use alcohol in order to be able to “fit in socially” - potentially suggesting that, “for whatever the reason, men do find membership of a social community more difficult to achieve than women.” Drug use is more common in men than women - 26% of men aged 16–24 reported using cannabis in the previous year compared to 16% of women. Young men are more than twice as likely (11% vs. 6%) to have used class A drugs. Maybe unsurprisingly in light of this, men made up 79% of 1,573 drug-related deaths in 2008. Why are young men turning to drugs so much more than women? There are doubtless a number of multifaceted reasons, but Untold Problems cites a Samaritans study from 1999 which found that “depressed young men were 10 times more likely (than women) to say that they would turn to drugs as a means of coping with distress.” Relationships The general consensus that men hide their problems whilst women are much more likely to talk about them is true – and it’s likely that it is affecting men’s health and happiness. A survey by Mind in 2009 found that 29% of men compared to 53% of women would discuss issues with friends if unhappy, whilst 31% compared to 47% of women would talk to their families. And why is this? Are men really less close to their friends or family than women, or is it more complex than that? Untold Problems cities a US study from 2000, which “found men much less likely than women to report intimate best friendships (23.5% of female friendships scored very highly on the scale, compared to only 7.5% of male friendships).” This is despite the fact that both men and women reported a strong desire for intimacy within their friendships. The study suggests that this lack of perceived closeness within male friendships “has obvious consequences for the availability of emotional support and encouragement to seek help.”
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