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What coping mechanisms do men really use to stay mentally healthy?

30 September, 2019
A man sharing his mental health issue

The rates at which men and women experience mental health issues are about the same, however, men are less likely to seek help to change their situation. This puts our males at higher risk of suicide, and likely accounts towards the gender difference in Australia’s suicide statistics. Nearly three times as many men take their own lives than women. This means there is a lot more work we need to do, as a community, to ensure the right support systems and awareness are in place for all, but particularly men.

There are many professional avenues to better mental health, but prevention and self-management can begin closer to home. Many people use simple coping strategies they can build into their day-to-day lives to help maintain good mental health, and even pull them out of a slump. We’re going to take a deeper look into how Australian men use coping strategies – both helpful and unhelpful.

What are unhelpful coping behaviours?

More men than women turn to unhealthy coping strategies – anger, alcohol, drugs, gambling and more – in an attempt to deal with mental health issues. Do you recognise any of these unhealthy coping mechanisms in yourself or someone you care for?

  • Anger
  • Using alcohol and drugs
  • Smoking
  • Binge eating
  • Excessive spending
  • Risk-taking e.g. gambling or unsafe sex
  • Sleeping a lot
  • Excessive use of technology e.g. video games/internet/TV

We as humans choose these behaviours as they can feel like a ‘quick fix’, but they almost always make the original problem worse. Sometimes, these are also called masking behaviours, as they mask the issues in the short-term by providing temporary escapism or relief. But they can delay you from seeking treatment earlier. In the case of substance abuse, such as excessive drinking and drug taking, the substance of choice can affect brain chemistry to make symptoms worse. Regular substance abuse can also introduce new problems into the mix, such as relationship breakdowns, issues in the workplace, health problems and financial consequences.

One thing we can do is to educate men not only around how to access help, but also how they can avoid the pitfalls of destructive coping strategies and use positive alternatives.

What are helpful coping behaviours?

There are many positive coping behaviours out there to choose from, but the one thing they have in common is that they’re used to help improve wellbeing and manage or prevent stress or negative emotions. In their simplest form, coping mechanisms can be as basic as eating well and exercising regularly. You probably know from your own experiences that you feel better when you incorporate these into your routine. Additionally, practices like meditation, mindfulness and journaling are growing in popularity. Even elite athletes are now using these to manage performance stress, while Google, Apple, McKinsey and more have meditation rooms in their corporate headquarters.

Here in Australia, a large Beyond Blue study found that men typically use a wide variety of positive coping strategies, keeping several in their arsenal to draw from. They also differentiate between the strategies they favour for prevention and management, although some men do use the same coping methods for both.

The top five prevention strategies (to keep themselves feeling okay) were:

  1. 1. Eating healthy
  2. 2. Keeping busy
  3. 3. Exercise
  4. 4. Using humour to reframe thoughts and feelings
  5. 5. Doing something to help someone else

The top five management strategies (when already feeling flat or down) were:

  1. 1. Taking time out
  2. 2. Keeping busy
  3. 3. Rewarding myself
  4. 4. Exercise
  5. 5. Spending time with a pet

What’s also interesting is that the men who took part in the study – of all ages, experiences and strategy preferences – all advocated talking to others and having a plan to handle feeling down or depressed. Men also report being open to using strategies that may not be seen as typically ‘masculine’, such as having a mentor, practising mindfulness, meditation or gratitude, and seeing a health professional.

The important thing to take away from this study is that men access a wide range of strategies and coping mechanisms to self-manage their mental health. Having a plan for how to deal with negative emotions also helps men to feel in control, rather than at the mercy of their situation. 

Get help

If you’re looking to improve your mental health and wellbeing, call us on 02 9685 7567 or email to see if you qualify for one of our Better Living programs tailored for mental health. These programs are free for members with an appropriate level of Hospital or package cover.

If you or someone you know is in need of urgent help, go straight to your GP or hospital emergency department, or contact a crisis centre below:

Beyondblue: Call 1300 22 4636, 24-hours/7 days a week.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services.



All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.

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