Unlocking the potential of peer support to improve men’s mental health
June 7, 2023
Approximately one of every 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.
Dr. Paul Sharp, a School of Nursing postdoctoral fellow with UBC’s Men’s Health Research Program and member of the Reducing Male Suicide Research Cluster, would like to help men find ways to tackle their mental health challenges through social connections.
Working with Dr. John Oliffe, Dr. Sharp is leading a SSHRC-funded study that will explore ways 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 with Dr. Sharp about the study.
Why are men less likely to seek professional help for mental health challenges?
Outdated societal norms and social expectations can cause men to limit their expression of emotions for fear of being seen and judged as vulnerable, weak, or un-manly. As a result, men often feel pressure to be strong and resilient and to deal with problems on their own.
Men may also think that their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant seeking professional support, so instead they opt to persevere through challenges without it.
In the absence of professional support, do men lean on other men for help, and how?
Men may seek, and offer, support for mental health challenges in different ways and to varying degrees. Some men have found ways of engaging with friends, colleagues, or peer support groups that are healthy and supportive. Others might feel like they lack the skills and confidence to talk about mental health challenges with their peers. Still others may rely on the more passive benefits of being around other men or doing activities together but avoid having forthright conversations about mental health.
Men’s peer relationships are often perceived to be light and superficial, which can prevent deeper connections and authentic interactions. Developing and maintaining social connections can be challenging for everyone, but men in particular report difficulties establishing close social connections with other men.
Why are you hopeful that peer support will help men combat their mental health challenges?
We already know that social connections can be incredibly beneficial for managing stress, working through challenging life events, and improving overall quality of life. Men may also find connecting socially preferable to traditional forms of counselling or therapy. Finding support through peers allows men to mutually share experiences and problem-solve 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 the 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 outcomes are you hoping for?
The study uses a photovoice research methodology, which invites participants to take and describe photos that depict their unique perspectives and experiences. With this approach, we hope to learn what’s working for men—and what’s not—when it comes to social connection and peer support for mental health challenges.
Ultimately, findings from 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 take part?
The following events are presented by the UBC Men’s Health Research Program as part of Men’s Health Month:
June 13, 10 a.m.-noon
How can UBC reduce men’s suicide?
AMS Nest, UBC Point Grey
June 13, 6-9 p.m.
Brewing conversations to promote mental health
R&B Ale and Pizza House, 1-54 E. 4th Ave., Vancouver
June 15, 5:30- 7:30 p.m.
Digital interventions for men’s health
AMS Nest, UBC Point Grey (and virtual)