A gender-sensitive approach is needed to tackle high rates of suicide and low rates of help-seeking among young men, research from Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, has shown.
Dr Simon Rice, who leads Orygen’s research into young men’s mental health, said that a systematic review of health, wellbeing and identity programs found that gender-neutral approaches did not always meet the unique health needs of young men.
“A one-size-fits-all approach works really well for some young men and boys, but not all. We need to think about approaches that fit with how young men at risk see the world, which has a lot to do with cultures of masculinity,” Dr Rice said.
“The research showed that gender responsive programs were more likely to be effective for young men. Activity based programs like sport, gaming and group-based challenges can be incredibly engaging so the question is: how can we leverage those activities and weave in mental health and wellbeing messages?”
Dr Rice said young men were three times more likely to die by suicide, interact with the criminal justice system, and develop substance use problems.
“Given these numbers, there’s definitely a need for us to find new ways to better engage young men in health, wellbeing and identity programs,” Dr Rice said.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was undertaken in partnership with Brighton Grammar School.
The deputy headmaster of Brighton Grammar and report co-author, Dr Ray Swann, said the school aimed to use the research findings to develop a school-based framework for positive masculinity.
“There are lots of people doing plenty of well-intentioned things to support boys’ mental health but – until now – we haven’t had any real clarity about what actually works,” Dr Swann said.
The research found that interventions incorporating a masculinity focus delivered positive outcomes in terms of self-efficacy, self-esteem, anger, perceptions of manhood, quality of life enjoyment and help-seeking intentions.
“With these findings we’re hoping to create a framework that promotes better help-seeking behaviours and wellbeing skills so that boys and young men are kitted-out to deal with challenges,” Dr Swann said.
Dr Swann said that positive masculinity sought to identify gendered traits and direct them towards positive outcomes.
“For example, part of the cultural indoctrination of being a man is this idea of stoicism. That’s great in one sense because it promotes resilience, but we don’t want young men to be stoic to the point where they don’t ask questions or seek help,” Dr Swann said.
“Positive masculinity looks at some of these traits that are embedded in cultural practices, schools, community groups, and repurposes them in a healthier way.”
The research was supported by a philanthropic donation to Brighton Grammar School aimed at promoting young men’s wellbeing programming. The donation assisted to fund the salary of lead author, Kate Gwyther.