Men’s health and the internet

Discover how the internet affects men's health and wellbeing and find expert tips to help keep your internet use healthy
24 May, 2023 • 5 minutes to read
Young athletic black male checks his phone

The internet continues to transform our daily lives, and revolutionise the way we communicate, learn, work, and access information.

From a health perspective, it has never been easier to access expert medical advice, connect with online healthcare providers and find valuable health resources and support groups. This can allow us a better understanding of our health conditions and provide a sense of connection and validation for those of us who may be struggling.

However, as well as the many benefits, it's also important to recognise the potential negative impact the internet can have on our mental health.

In this article, we will look at the impact of the internet, with a particular focus on men's mental health, exploring both the positive and negative effects. We'll also provide expert tips on how to maintain healthy online habits to support our mental health.

Barriers to men accessing care

The term ‘silent crisis’ is often used in relation to men’s mental health as studies show how men typically avoid seeking medical help for symptoms of poor mental health.1 Social stigma and outdated societal attitudes towards masculinity can act as a barrier to men feeling able to acknowledge, discuss, or seek help for mental health concerns. This can lead to self-medicating and worse; research shows that in the in the UK, men are nearly three times more likely than women to take their own lives.2 In the US, nearly four times more likely.3

“Despite increased awareness over recent years, it is vital that we continue the conversation around men’s mental health.”

- Caroline Wood

Research shows too, that men are less likely than women to visit a doctor regularly in general,4 which can lead to undiagnosed conditions that may worsen over time.

One reason for this is that men may be more likely to prioritise work and other responsibilities over their own health, leading them to put off seeking medical attention until their condition becomes severe.

Caroline Wood, Head of Behavioural Insights & Research for Bupa UK, notes: “Despite increased awareness over recent years, it is vital that we continue the conversation around men’s mental health. Men can find it difficult to talk about their feelings, and there’s often a perception that it’s a sign of weakness to seek help. As a result, men may be more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or avoid routine health checks and potentially miss a vital early diagnosis.” 

Easy access to trusted health resources

With virtual healthcare, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), and 24-hour access to expert, multi-lingual advice, it’s clear there are many ways the internet can help men look after their mental and physical health.

“While there is a wealth of health information online, it's important to be able to differentiate trusted, expert resources from misinformation that may be harmful.”

- Caroline Wood

By providing easy access to trusted men’s health resources and support groups, as well as tools such as meditation and evidence-based health apps, the internet has enabled men to access expert help and support that they may have otherwise felt was unavailable. This can be especially important for those who may be hesitant to seek help in person.

Although Caroline points out, “While there is a wealth of health information online, it's important to be able to differentiate trusted, expert resources from misinformation that may be harmful. Professional advice, whether online or in person, is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.”

It’s also important not to rely solely on online forums for emotional support,” Caroline says. “While forums can be beneficial in connecting those who may be experiencing similar struggles, face-to-face contact is vital in helping to prevent feelings of isolation.”

Social media and mental health

While the internet offers undeniable advantages, there are also many ways it can negatively impact our mental health and overall wellbeing.

Research shows that an increasing number of men are experiencing negative body image

Compulsive behaviour patterns and internet addiction, especially with social media apps designed to be addictive, can lead to disrupted dopamine release. This can result in a lack of motivation, concentration, and enjoyment, all of which can be detrimental to our mental health. In fact, some studies show that our overall happiness is decreasing in line with our reliance on technology.5

Social media and online forums can create pressure to conform to unrealistic body standards, contributing to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and low self-esteem. While this affects everyone, research shows that an increasing number of men are experiencing negative body image.6

In addition, online anonymity can also lead to cyberbullying and harassment. Caroline notes, “The negative effects of the internet on mental health and wellbeing cannot be overlooked. Be aware of the potential pitfalls of excessive internet use, including addiction, cyberbullying, and feelings of isolation”.

Maintaining healthy internet habits to help prevent these issues is crucial,” says Caroline.

Tips for healthy internet habits

Caroline provides the following tips for balancing mental health and technology use.

  1. Set boundaries: Create a schedule or routine for internet use and stick to it. Avoid excessive use, especially of social media and other addictive apps. You might also consider setting specific times during the day when you will check your email, social media accounts, or other online platforms. This can help prevent mindless scrolling and compulsive behaviour patterns that can impact your mental health and wellbeing.

  2. Connect with others: Use the internet to connect with others and seek support, but also try to balance online connections with in-person interactions. It’s important to make time for friends and family and engage in offline activities.

  3. Avoid stressful content: Be aware of how you feel after being online and notice the types of content that might be causing you feelings of stress, anxiety, or unease. Once you’ve identified this, consider taking measures to limit or stop your exposure and engagement by unfollowing or hiding certain channels or accounts, or avoiding certain platforms altogether.

  4. Stay safe while using social media: Social media is full of carefully curated profiles often showing an unrealistic representation of people’s lives. It’s important to remember this and resist the urge to compare yourself to others. You might also feel pressure to constantly check your social media accounts for fear of missing out. If this is the case, consider limiting your use of social media or turn on airplane mode to give yourself a temporary break from notifications.

  5. Practice self-care: Self-care is crucial for health and wellbeing, and the internet can often be a distraction from these practices. Our devices offer us an easy way of avoiding uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Instead, try to be conscious and recognise when you might be using the internet as a distraction. Instead, engage in activities that help you to relax and unwind, such as yoga, meditation or taking a walk outdoors if you can. Additionally, find offline hobbies that you enjoy, such as painting or playing an instrument.

“The internet – and even social media - can provide valuable resources and support” says Caroline, “but it's crucial to use it mindfully. Resist the urge to self-diagnose or self-prescribe treatment based on medical information found online. Always seek trusted, professional help for proper diagnosis and treatment.”

Find out more:

Learn more about barriers to men accessing healthcare with Bupa Global Perspectives session ‘Man Up: The Silent Crisis in Men’s Health’.

In the following video, Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor for Bupa, discusses some of the barriers that may prevent men accessing health advice and treatment, and explores what role the internet can play in supporting men's health:

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Men are less likely to seek health advice than women, and this can be because of social norms - so the role within their family or their social context. And it can also be because of traditional masculine gender roles- things like invulnerability and self-reliance, which have been created by society. And they don't always seem to fit with help-seeking and this can make it hard to seek support which may be viewed as a weakness. And it can make it more difficult to talk about any issues - even with friends or family. And it can also be because of competing priorities - so prioritizing time for work and family above health.

And it can also be not prioritizing their own health- so, seeing their partner or their children's health as being more important than their own, while their own health can wait. And it can also depend on the condition and its severity - so men can often be forced to seek support for health conditions because of their symptoms. It might get to the point where they feel they can no longer delay getting that help - mild symptoms can be easier to put up with or to ignore. And another barrier can be embarrassment – so it can be particularly difficult to talk about certain issues like mental health or sexual health especially in a clinical environment with a GP or clinician you may not see very often and may not have a very good relationship with. So these are a few of the barriers to seeking Health advice.

So there are a number of reasons why it's best not to delay seeking advice for health and one of those is the possibility that a condition could decline and could get worse and once you seek treatment. And once treatment starts, it may take longer to start working, and men are more likely than women to self-medicate - using things like drugs and alcohol. So as an example- drinking alcohol to suppress chronic pain or to try to help manage stress, and in the long term this could cause social and financial problems and even lead to addiction. So, getting treatment earlier can help to prevent the need for this kind of self-medication. And then there's a fear of being told that there is a serious problem and that can be a barrier for people seeking help, but it's a reason why it's important to seek help sooner rather than later so that treatment can be started as soon as possible in order to have the best effects. And it's also important to attend routine health checks - so even if you're not experiencing any symptoms - because early diagnosis can be vital for successful treatment. And it's really important that we make the most of available medical screening.

So the internet can be great for finding health advice. It can be easy to find resources online, and even things like support groups and some medical providers offer remote appointments and that can make it easier to seek support if you don't want to see someone face to face. The internet offers things like evidence-based apps which can include meditation and mindfulness, and these can be really helpful as self-help tools for mental health conditions. And the internet can also help to improve our health literacy - so our knowledge of different physical and mental health conditions and their associated symptoms. And reading about other people - so it could be celebrities who may have been diagnosed with certain conditions. They may be promoting the need to get help, and this could be a good way to challenge social norms particularly for men normalizing help seeking as a strength and not a weakness.

But while the internet can be a great resource, I think we also need to be aware of some of the pitfalls of using the internet for health advice. So, what we read online isn't necessarily going to be accurate, especially if we're looking at things like social media. So it's important to use trustworthy websites and evidence-based apps - so apps which have been robustly tested and proven to be effective. And for anyone who may have looked up symptoms on the internet - I think a lot of us will have found that this can lead to kind of self-diagnosing with something quite serious - and while it may not be something serious, it can cause unnecessary increased stress and anxiety so it's important to try not to self-diagnose, and to remember that seeking professional help is vital for correct diagnosis and suitable treatment.

Sources expand_more
  1. Masculinity and Help-Seeking Among Men with Depression: A Qualitative Study. Frontiers. Last accessed April 2023.
  2. Latest suicide data. Suicide facts and figures. Samaritans. Last accessed May 2023.
  3. Suicide Data and Statistics. Suicide. CDC. Last accessed May 2023.
  4. Why Don't Men See Doctors? INTEGRIS Health. Last accessed April 2023.
  5. Constant craving: how digital media turned us all into dopamine addicts. Life and style - The Guardian. Last accessed April 2023.
  6. The Truth About Male Body Image Issues. Newport Institute. Last accessed April 2023.

This information was published by Bupa Global's Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals and deemed accurate on the date of review.

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