A lot of men are reluctant to get medical advice. Chances are you know one who refuses to go to his doctor unless he’s practically losing a limb. But it’s not just physical conditions that keep gents away from their GPs. They’re also less likely than their female counterparts to seek help for mental-health issues.
Men make up only about a third of people who access mental-health services in Canada, according to John Ogrodniczuk, professor of psychiatry at UBC and director of the psychotherapy program there. In particular, many men avoid seeking help for symptoms of depression.
Ogrodniczuk wanted to do something to change that. Working with a team of clinicians, researchers, and mental-health professionals and advocates, he spearheaded a new initiative to spur men experiencing depression to get help.
Based at UBC, HeadsUpGuys is an online tool that provides information, resources, and support specifically for men who are depressed or suspect they may be.
“We know that men are not availing themselves of services as much as they should, and one of the ultimate consequences is that we see higher suicide rates [in men],” Ogrodniczuk says in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. Men commit suicide at a rate four times higher than women, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. “Men are diagnosed with depression at about half the rate of women; that goes back to the fact that men aren’t showing up at mental-health services. It’s one of the leading causes of disability among people worldwide. It’s a very prevalent and prominent problem.”
And yet men resist getting help. Even though people are becoming more open about mental illness, society still has these notions that men have to be strong and stoic and that it’s not manly for them to admit to feelings of sadness or despair. They tend to keep things to themselves and feel like they should be able to deal with things on their own.
“You’re not supposed to show any vulnerabilities, and showing your vulnerabilities is inherent in the help-seeking process,” Ogrodniczuk says. “The way that men think about how they should behave as men can be quite unhelpful. Most men do not like to admit that they feel vulnerable or uncertain and so are less likely to talk about their feelings with their friends, partner, family, or doctor.”
Data also reveal that men are more likely to present to the emergency department than to a doctor’s office, Ogrodniczuk says, which relates to men’s denial of illness and reliance on self-management strategies.
Identifying depression in men can be a challenge because symptoms may be brushed off by them or others as simply stress, and the ways many men get by may conceal the real problem.
“Some of their coping strategies may cover up the fact that they are depressed,” Ogrodniczuk says. “Substance use is very common among men. Some guys tend to lose themselves in their work to distract themselves. There are other distractions that they use, whether it’s high-risk physical activities to lose touch with their reality—momentarily, at least—to kind of forget about some of their problems. Anger and irritability are common amongst guys early on. But as this goes on and guys don’t reach out for help, their depression gets worse.”
Ogrodniczuk developed the online tool because men and women tend to turn to the Internet first when it comes to getting health information. Accessible around the clock at no cost, it addresses men’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency and is a safe, nonconfrontational place to start learning about depression and its symptoms. HeadsUpGuys is user-friendly and easy to read; it’s not text-heavy, and the messages are to the point. It’s full of practical tips and nudges men to get professional help. It also has a section where people can learn how to support a male friend or family member who is depressed.
“The Internet has become an important tool for people seeking health information, with some reports suggesting that people are twice as likely to seek health information there than through a health-care professional,” Ogrodniczuk says. “It’s a resource that we know men are using and that we’re using to reach out to them, then inform them about what depression actually is and what they can do to manage and recover from depression.
“We’re pointing guys to things they can do on their own, self-care strategies, and we talk to them on the website about how to build a support team around them,” he adds. “We give information on how to talk to family and friends about depression, how to connect with their GP and start a conversation around topics of depression, and also point guys to the types of treatments that are used to treat depression. All of these different calls to action are to try to normalize the help-seeking process.
“Before launching our website, there was nothing available in the way of an online resource that is solely dedicated to informing men of strategies for the management of depression in the way of direct tips and advice. HeadsUpGuys was launched to help fill this resource gap.”
Since the site launched this past summer with the support of the Movember Foundation, it has had more than 30,000 visits. It’s part of the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network, a Canada-wide initiative to develop resources, services, and programs to improve men’s mental health and well-being.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is simply have people start conversations and let guys know that depression is something that men deal with. It happens, and rather than try to fight it on your own, which is terribly difficult, reach out and build a team, talk to people, and get some support. Just because you’re reaching out for help doesn’t mean you’ve given up on yourself. You’re still in control; you’re still in the driver’s seat.”