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Men with the worst depression might also be the least likely to seek help

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Men the highest risk of persistent depression might also be the least likely to seek help to combat their symptoms.

Psychology researchers in Australia conducted a longitudinal study of 125 Australian men (ages 18 to 67). They found that many men did not consider experiencing depression for 15 weeks as enough of a reason to seek help. These men reported more barriers to seeking treatment. Men with long-standing depression were more likely agree with statements such as “I would think less of myself for needing help”, “The problem wouldn’t seem worth getting help for”, “I wouldn’t know what sort of help is available”, “This problem is embarrassing”, and “I don’t like to talk about feelings.”

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Psychology on April 1, 2017.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Simon M. Rice of the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Rice: I’m a clinical psychologist, and have seen time and time again the impact of men seeking mental health help too late in the course of illness. This is also borne out in suicide statistics, where globally, men are at much higher risk of suicide than are women. My broad interest is in us better identifying men in distress (by using more appropriate and sensitive screening tools), and then better refining our services to support them. The mental health field has a long way to go in improving the acceptability of our interventions for men. Some other related work is here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24051100
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24980475
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28132568

What should the average person take away from your study?

Those men who were at the highest risk of ongoing depressive symptoms also held the most negative attitudes towards help seeking for these symptoms. This means that those who most need support are likely to have to overcome a greater number of internal and external barriers – which is a real problem. We need to do more work to reduce the barriers that men experience, and normalise and encourage help seeking as an adaptive things to do.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

There are still big research gaps when it comes to men’s mental health. We need a better understanding of whether men may show difference symptom patterns (which may reduce the likelihood of them being detected in primary care) and we need to learn more about the kinds of services that men want, and then co-design and build them with men as partners.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

This is an emerging and exciting research field, but we need more researchers and clinicians to become involved. It wouldn’t take too much focused research to shift policy, which may start to have a big on-the-ground impact for men. Ensuring improved mental health for men is also good for our communities more broadly, and may impact on reducing rates of problematic substance use and related harms, problems managing anger and even domestic violence. There is much work to be done in this space.

The study, “Men’s perceived barriers to help seeking for depression: Longitudinal findings relative to symptom onset and duration“, was also co-authored by Helen M. Aucote, Alexandra G. Parker, Mario Alvarez-Jimenez, Kate M. Filia and G. Paul Amminger.

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