17 May 2016

This year the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week is on relationships.

Movember Foundation research identifies need for action on male friendships and social connections
Where The Money Goes
This year the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week is on relationships. This is a critical area identified by the Movember Foundation because the evidence has been building for some time now to indicate that many men are not prioritizing their friendships nearly enough – to an extent that it is having an adverse effect upon their health over the long term.

Research from the World Health Organization has shown that increasing the level of ‘social connectedness’ can have a significant positive impact upon one’s health and even reduce their risk of suicide. However, nearly one in four men worldwide experience low levels of social support and a quarter of men have no one outside of their immediate family to rely on. 

The Movember Foundation has conducted a survey to throw more light on the issue of social connectedness amongst men in the UK specifically, and the findings are troubling. A quarter of men here say they make contact with their mates less than once a month. Indeed, one in ten men couldn’t recall the last time they made contact with their friends.

Striking too is the lack of breadth and depth the research identified in male friendships. Over half of men reported having two friends or less that they would discuss a serious topic with. Furthermore, the research suggests that male friendships tend to drift away as men grow older. Whilst only 7% of under-24s said they lacked a close friend, that figure rises to 19% for over-55s. Life-stage and life circumstances may play a part: whereas 11% of single men said they did not have a friend to turn to, this statistic rises to 15% for married men. 

Why does all this matter? A reduction in the quality of social connections can significantly impact on the health of men, leading to social isolation and loneliness, which have been identified as risk factors for suicide, depression and anxiety. Forming strong, lasting and meaningful relationships is so important when things get tough. Yet this can be challenging, particularly when societal norms tend to discourage emotional openness and vulnerability in men, often inferring they are a sign of weakness. Indeed expressing one’s feelings is often conditioned out of boys during childhood. This can create an environment where it is difficult for men to talk about and navigate through significant life events like relationship changes and workplace transitions. Moments such as losing a job or becoming a father for the first time can become serious threats to a man’s mental wellbeing if the support structure of friendship is not there to help him through. 

Worryingly, as many as one in eight men do not have a friend they would discuss a serious topic with (e.g. work worries, a health problem, money concerns etc.) And for many that consider that do in fact have a mate they feel they could turn to, there still often remains an immense reluctance to take that step, to open up, and to seek help when needed.

Paul Villanti, Movember Foundation Executive Director of Programmes: “Encouraging men to be more socially connected and drawing on these relationships when they go through tough times and transitions in life is a critical priority for the Movember Foundation as we seek to improve the health and wellbeing of men and contribute to the reduction in the number of men that die by suicide.”