Male friendship and risks of loneliness

Josh Brown Open University

Loneliness is not specific to one group, place or time. It can happen to anyone, and the long term effects can be devastating. In terms of mortality, smoking can pose similar health risks.  In certain groups, loneliness may result in more direct and tragic consequences. In the US in 2013, the suicide rate for middle-aged men, the most at risk group, is 27.3 deaths per 100,000. In contrast, for women it is only 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

The type of friendship matters

These figures present a complex situation with no easy answers, but there is something that differs between the male and female experience, which may point to a reason for the vast difference in suicide rates. One small piece of the puzzle may lie in the differences between male and female relationships. Male friendship tends to focus around activities: There is less personal closeness and therefore less potential for support when it may be needed. In contrast many female friendships rely on sharing personal information as a way to bond and become closer. When women need support they have a willing network of friends who are more likely to know each other deeply. Men have been shown to equate success with being married and having children more than women. But their lack of openness with friends can make men more reliant on their partner, so if a break down in that relationship occurs, they can suddenly become very vulnerable to isolation.

Possible solutions

The normalisation of more deep and personal male friendships could be key to making sure men have the appropriate emotional safety net for when their other relationships break down. We as a society can encourage the creation of platonic male-female relationships, which may be key, and we can encourage supportive and deep friendships between men and within their groups. We need to change perceptions that men cannot share what they are feeling and talk to friends about their lives. Mental health is too important to forgo these essential support networks.