In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Men: Health and Mental Health Care

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Professional Organizations
  • Help-Seeking
  • Therapy with Men
  • Physical Health

Social Work Men: Health and Mental Health Care
Kevin Shafer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0243


Little scholarship in social work has focused on the unique physical and mental health care needs of men. This may be the result of social work’s focus on marginalized and oppressed populations, while many men enjoy a highly privileged position within society. To be sure, social work has addressed issues that disproportionately affect males, such as imprisonment and military service, and some male populations, such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and racial/ethnic minority groups. Despite their privileged gender position, men, on average, die five years earlier than women, are more likely to abuse alcohol, illegal drugs, and other substances, and engage in risky behavior more frequently. This is significant, given the relatively high prevalence of mental health issues in men. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 10–12 percent of men will have a major depressive episode in their lifetime. Other mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, are equally prevalent among men and women. Problematically, however, men seek help for mental health issues far less frequently than women—leading to high levels of undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems. Men are often unwilling to get help for their problems because of hegemonic masculine norms that value self-sufficiency, stoicism, strength, and social detachment. Compounding these problems are professional issues, including unfamiliarity with masculine depressive symptoms, diagnostic bias, and lack of male-sensitive social services.

Introductory Works

Men have greater levels of mortality and morbidity than women. Excellent population level statistical profiles of men’s health in the United States are updated annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, global estimates of men’s health are less readily available. The texts and websites, listed below, provide readers with an excellent overview of the physical and mental health issues facing men, particularly with regard to the unique challenges and opportunities associated with men’s health. Furthermore, several works discuss the relationship between gender and health and why men, on average, are less healthy than women. Unfortunately, few of these works consider within-gender differences by focusing on issues such as socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic identity, spirituality, and sexual identity, among other issues. A central concept in understanding men’s health and well-being is that of hegemonic masculinity, its emphasis on emotional stoicism, self-reliance, and eschewing of feminine characteristics, and the pressure to conform to such norms and behaviors. These norms can have a strong effect on men in Western cultures and can lead to adverse health conditions, often because of avoidant health behaviors. Specific works discuss other issues, as well. Addis 2011 highlights the significance of silence in the lives of men and its effects on family, friends, and colleagues. Both Furman 2013 and Shafer and Wendt 2015 discuss many of these same issues, but specifically through a social work lens.

  • Addis, Michael E. 2011. Invisible men: Men’s inner lives and the consequences of silence. New York: Henry Holt.

    Addis’s book discusses many mental health help-seeking issues common to men—particularly an unwillingness or inability to discuss their problems. In particular, Addis explore in-depth the issues of masculinity and cultural norms that influence the physical and mental health of men.

  • Furman, Rich. 2013. Social work practice with men at risk. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Furman’s book is more social work specific than the prior two texts in this section, which are more strongly focused on psychological and public health perspectives. In the text, Furman discusses the unique needs of men and argues that social workers need to value men and understand their challenges, while also acknowledging their privileges in American society.

  • Shafer, Kevin, and Douglas Wendt. 2015. Men’s mental health: A call to social workers. Social Work 60.2: 105–112.

    DOI: 10.1093/sw/swu061

    Shafer and Wendt provide a short overview of men’s mental health issues, their prevalence, clinical implications, and directions for future research regarding men’s mental health. They strongly emphasize the important and unique role social workers can play in helping men.

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