The crisis of masculinity won’t be solved with antidepressants

    23 February 2015

    There was much discussion recently about the rise in male suicide rates, after official figures published last week showed they were at their highest level since 2001. But one aspect of this has attracted little attention: the lack of support for men abused by their partners. In a poll of 130 Citizens Advice Bureaux workers, 63 per cent said it was easy to get help for women reporting domestic abuse, compared to 13 per cent for men.

    It’s bad enough that men struggle to find help once they pluck up the courage to ask for it. But they are also less likely than women to look for support in the first place – and more likely to be disbelieved.

    One example cited by bureaux staff involved a man suffering physical and emotional abuse, who was arrested and lost access to his children as a result. With so little specialist support around, many men are instead treated by their GPs with the only option available: antidepressants. It’s a recipe for fermenting a crisis of any kind, masculinity included: treat the symptoms, not the cause.

    In another typical case, one man had his dose of antidepressants increased as his mental health deteriorated. ‘It got to the point where I was in a complete fug of medication,’ he explains. After suffering a nervous breakdown, he managed to get help by joining one of the few available support groups for men, run by Home Group, a housing association.

    Gene Feder, a professor of primary care at the University of Bristol who helps train GPs to detect cases of domestic abuse, says cases likes these can be found across the country. However, he admits that GP training can only go so far, because often they are offered insufficient specialist support. While women can be referred to a named person in a nearby service, many men are just put in touch with advice lines. ‘Giving someone the name of a website address and a telephone number isn’t the same,’ Professor Feder says.

    Citizens Advice, in a report titled Victims of Domestic Abuse: Struggling for Support, concludes with the following point: abused men deserve the same right to investigation, support and legal aid as abused women.

    Until this is addressed, many men will find the only support they are offered is medicinal. Symptoms will be treated but the root cause won’t be. As a result, this particular crisis of masculinity will continue.

    Keith Cooper is a freelance journalist

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