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Authors Grace B, Richardson N, Carroll P
Review Date March 2016
Citation American Journal of Men’s Health 2016: DOI: 10.1177/1557988316634088 (online ahead of print)
As a group young men are reluctant to seek help for health issues, especially those of a mental or emotional nature. There have been calls for improved services to support young men’s mental health and well-being. The literature suggests that aspiring to adhere to hegemonic forms of masculinity negatively impacts on young men’s help-seeking for mental/emotional health problems. There is also evidence that young men have insufficient knowledge about mental health and symptoms of mental health problems. The high suicide rate among young men is also of concern and requires services responsive to the needs of this group. The attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of service providers are important to consider with respect to improving service provision for young men.
To investigate service providers’ (in Ireland) perspectives on the factors that support or inhibit young men from engaging in services targeted at supporting their mental and emotional well-being.
Qualitative methodologies were used; 8 focus groups and 7 semi-structured interviews were conducted with service providers most likely to be in contact with young men including sports organisations, youth workers, primary care providers, mental health organisations and GPs. Data were coded using a grounded theory approach by 2 authors, with differences in interpretations resolved by the third author. Themes were grouped into primary and sub-themes.
Participants indicated that their own views of mental health were more holistic than that of the young men they were in contact with who perceived mental health more in the context of mental illness only, illustrating some of the challenges in improving engagement between service providers and young men.
Disconnection and young men
Disconnection from family and community was identified as a key indicator of “at-risk” groups of young men who, more typically, had experienced significant disruption in their lives. The absence of a father figure was often reported as leading to disconnection. This disconnection was seen as leading to low expectations, low self-esteem and self-confidence.
The discord between demands and expectations facing young men on one hand, and insufficient life-management and coping skills on the other, left many young men vulnerable and bereft.
The desire to save face and preserve one’s masculine identity was linked to young men’s reluctance to seek help when feeling down.
(Re)connecting with young men
There was a strong consensus that there could be no shortcuts to [re]connecting with young men. Most felt that attempts to engage young men in mental health should be done at the earliest possible stage in a boy’s life, e.g. by encouraging more openness about mental health from early school years.
While sport, technology, and social media were cited as appropriate media in which to engage young men, the essence of sustained connection revolved around creating safety, trust, rapport, and meaningful relationships.
The data demonstrate conclusively the need to work from and nurture a positive, more holistic and strengths-based definition of mental health and well-being with young men. This requires supporting practitioners to explore the world of young men, to work toward a better understanding of the defining events that mark boys and young men’s transition into manhood, to gain a better appreciation of the issues and challenges that they face, and the opportunities that exist for engagement.
The findings have informed the development of a Train the Trainer program (“Connecting with Young Men”), which is currently being delivered to service providers in Ireland and which may have implications for service provision elsewhere.
Points to Note
- The service providers in this Irish study perceived that many young men are disconnected from family, community and wider society and are unwilling to engage with mental health service providers.
- The findings highlight the importance of connectedness, specifically service providers making positive connections with young men.
- As has been discussed widely in the literature, the need to move beyond traditional constructions of masculinity to make it safe and acceptable for boys and men to express their feelings and emotions was a theme arising from the data.
- Limitations of the study include: the focus on service providers meant the views of young men were not included; GPs and clinical psychologists were hard to recruit and thus their views were not well represented; the small sample limits the breadth of views; some participants had limited experience in engaging with young men.
- A Train the Tainer program, designed using the findings of the study, uses a strength-based approach to underpin the 10 modules designed to support service providers to engage more effectively with young men.