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With this year’s Men’s Health Week (12-18 June), the focus this year was on the challenges presented by the internet, such as online gaming and porn addiction. In previous Men’s Health Weeks, the focus has been on male mental health more generally.

According to the NHS, 12.5% of men report having a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. This compares to about 20% of women. However, men are often more deeply affected by mental health issues, and also more reluctant to talk about them and seek help, so these figures may not paint a completely accurate picture.

When it comes to gender disparity in mental health, perhaps the most alarming statistic is that about 76% of suicides in England and Wales were men, and suicide is the leading cause of death in males under the age of 45. Men are also more likely to be dependent on alcohol, with 8.7% of men addicted to drinking, compared to 3.3% of women.

A further concerning statistic is that 40% of men said that they need to be feeling suicidal or contemplating some other form of self harm before they would consider seeking help. This raises the question of how many men are struggling in silence with common mental health problems such as stress, low mood, or low self esteem.

What are the consequences of undiagnosed mental health problems in men?

The Mental Health Foundation reports that men are more likely to turn to harmful coping mechanisms than women, including taking drugs or abusing alcohol. They may also use avoidant tactics, such as overworking or overexercising.

Men who are depressed can be more prone to irritability and sudden bursts of anger, which in turn can lead to dangerous risk-taking behaviour or violence that endangers themselves or others.

Poor male mental health is also linked to men’s physical health problems. For example, conditions such as stress and depression can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) or sexual performance anxiety in men. In fact, for men under the age of 40, ED is more likely to have a psychological or emotional cause rather than a physical cause.

To feel sexually aroused the brain needs to be in a receptive state, and this is more difficult when feeling depressed or stressed. Anxiety can also have physical symptoms including increased heart rate, high blood pressure and fatigue that make ED more likely to occur.

Psychological problems that cause ED may be related directly to sex, such as a strained relationship, unresolved feelings of guilt about sex due to social or cultural conditioning, or performance anxiety triggered by a bad previous sexual experience. In other cases, outside stressors such as a demanding job or financial worries may be the root cause.

Men who are struggling with any of these problems are advised to have a chat with their GP. There are effective ways to treat and manage mental health issues, including making lifestyle changes and possibly taking a course of medication or attending therapy sessions.

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