A major report released by Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health reveals that the mental health needs of young Australian men are not being met.
Rather than continuing to offer more of the same in terms of service and treatment models, the report is calling for innovative new approaches to be developed and trialled, co-designed with young men themselves.
The report highlights that although young males are almost three times as likely to die by suicide as young Australian females, they are less likely to be accessing services, or receiving appropriate treatment for their mental ill-health.
Titled ‘Keeping It Real: Reimagining mental health care for all young men’, the report finds that comparatively low rates of engagement and higher rates of suicide and alcohol and other drug use among young men, clearly shows that more needs to be done.
“When we take a careful look at the statistics, we see that preventable mental ill health drives much of burden of disease in young men. This links to young men placing themselves, and often others, in harm’s way, be that through substance misuse, anger or violence, or risk-taking”, said Research Fellow and co-author of the report, Dr Simon Rice. These behaviours are too often normalised, ignored or explained away, but often reflect underlying distress”, he said.
The report points to a number of significant barriers young men face when engaging with mental health services. Social expectations around masculinity can mean notions of strength, stoicism and invulnerability are still prized by many (but not all) young men, which can make it difficult for them to express and disclose difficult emotions.
“The pressures that young men face impact significantly on their mental health. While many young men are able to talk openly about their experiences, others find this difficult or foreign. Some environments actively prevent young men from being aware of their emotional experiences”, Dr Rice said, adding, “We must think about creative and disruptive ways to engage all young men, including those groups identified at higher risk”.
The report recognises that for young men, symptoms of mental ill-health manifest in a broader range of ways, often through externalising behaviours rather than emotional symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Because of this, their symptoms can often be missed when existing diagnostic criteria are used to assess their mental health. Health professionals and services need to be more aware of the potential link between these externalising behaviours and mental ill health when assessing young men, the report highlights.
“There is growing awareness that distress or depression might present differently in young men, if this is the case, we need to sharpen our assessment tools and processes so that we can better detect this”, said Dr Rice.
The report also identifies the need to increase young men’s awareness of services and mental health literacy to help them better understand and recognise symptoms of mental ill-health and where to go to get help.
Engaging young men is more likely to be successful when services are co-designed with young men themselves and reach into their lives, the report states, also highlighting the important role that peer support can play in facilitating engagement and in providing a safety net for young men experiencing mental ill-health. The report also recognises the potential of digital technologies in facilitating engagement suggesting that the development of acceptable and effective services and treatment must be informed by what engages young men in digital fields such as gaming.
“If we are to address the worrying statistics related to young men’s mental health, we have to co-design the next generation of services and interventions alongside young men, ensuring they are both effective and relevant”.
“Better ways of engaging with young men will only be identified through meaningful partnerships. Re-imagining our services is a critical step.” Dr Rice said.
Download Keeping it real: Reimagining mental health care for all young men