Mental Health

Improving Men’s Mental Health: Harnessing the Power of Peer Support

Men's Mental Health, Peer Support, Social Connections, Mental Health Challenges, Participant Recruitment, Coping With Mental Health Issues, Men's Mental Wellbeing
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Approximately one in five men in Canada will experience a mental health challenge this year. Many will avoid or delay seeking support, which can lead to devastating results.

Men's Mental Health, Peer Support, Social Connections, Mental Health Challenges, Participant Recruitment, Coping With Mental Health Issues, Men's Mental Wellbeing

Dr. Paul Sharp

Dr. Paul Sharp, a postdoctoral fellow with UBC’s Men’s Health Research Program and member of the Male Suicide Reduction Research Group, would like to help men find ways to address their mental health challenges through social connections.

Working with Dr. John Oliffe, Dr. Sharp is leading an SSHRC-funded study that will explore the ways in which peer support can impact men’s mental health. The study will take place over the next two years and is currently recruiting participants.

We spoke to Dr. Sharp about the study.

Why are men less likely to seek professional help for mental health issues?

Outdated social norms and social expectations can lead men to limit their expression of emotions for fear of being seen and judged as vulnerable, weak or unmanly. As a result, men often feel pressure to be strong and resilient and to tackle problems on their own.

Men may also feel that their symptoms aren’t severe enough to warrant seeking professional support, so they choose instead to persevere through challenges without it.

In the absence of professional support, men turn to other men for help, and how?

Men can seek and offer support for mental health issues in different ways and to varying degrees. Some men have found ways to interact with friends, colleagues, or peer support groups that are wholesome and supportive. Others may feel like they don’t have the skills and confidence to talk about mental health challenges with their peers. Still others may rely on the more passive benefits of being with other men or engaging in activities together but avoid having candid conversations about mental health.

Men’s peer relationships are often perceived as light and superficial, which can prevent deeper connections and genuine interactions. Developing and maintaining social connections can be difficult for everyone, but men in particular report difficulty forming close social bonds with other men.

Why do you hope peer support will help men battle their mental health challenges?

We already know that social connections can be incredibly helpful in managing stress, coping with challenging life events, and improving overall quality of life. Men may also find connecting socially preferable to traditional forms of counseling or therapy. Finding support through peers allows men to share experiences with each other and solve problems in less formal settings.

It’s also encouraging to know that while many men may be reluctant to seek help for themselves, they are open to helping others. A recent survey of Canadian men found that a majority would be open to helping other men deal with and overcome their mental health challenges.

What methodology are you using for this study and what results are you hoping for?

The study uses a photovoice research methodology, which invites participants to take and describe photos that portray their unique perspectives and experiences. With this approach, we hope to learn what works for men and what doesn’t when it comes to social connection and peer support for mental health challenges.

Ultimately, the results of this research will be used to develop an online resource to support men to engage in peer support for better mental health.

How can men participate?

Canadian-based men over the age of 18 who are interested in participating can learn more about the study here or contact Dr. Paul Sharp (paul.sharp@ubc.ca) to enroll.

Related events

The following events are presented by the UBC Men’s Health Research Program as part of Men’s Health Month:

June 13, from 10:00 to 12:00
How can UBC reduce male suicide?
AMS Nest, UBC Point Grey

June 13, 18-21
Prepare conversations to promote mental health
R&B Ale and Pizza House, 1-54 E. 4th Avenue, Vancouver

June 15, 5.30-7.30 pm
Digital interventions for men’s health
AMS Nest, UBC Point Gray (and virtual)

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