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New UBC study debunks stereotypes of how men cope post-breakup

The idea that men don't seek support for a breakup or divorce is not true. Research shows how men employ three main methods of coping and help-seeking.
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A new study says there "has been little attention to men's mental health help-seeking (or needs) in the specific context of relationship breakups" and shows the ways men cope.

A breakup is never easy. It can represent a painful loss or the opportunity for personal growth that wasn’t possible before. Regardless, it can trigger an emotional response that weighs on one's mental health. 

According to John Oliffe, UBC professor of nursing and Canada Research Chair in men’s health promotion, the breakdown of an intimate partner relationship increases the risk for anxiety, depression and suicide in men. These effects are widely documented; however, little is known about their help-seeking and how they cope with a breakup. 

Oliffe, who is the senior author on a new study about how men cope with breakups, says that despite societal stereotypes, men are very creative in their ways to seek out mental health support. 

“For the longest time, you know, the trope around men not going to the doctor has been, I think, unhelpful. And aside from being unhelpful, it's empirically not true,” he said. 

The study shows that men utilize three main categories of support: solitary work such as reading self-help books and tapping established connections; reaching out to make new connections; and engaging in professional mental health care. 

“Those couple of things, we haven't always classed and we certainly don't count them in the official stats around men's health-seeking. So I just thought it was like a shortfall, you know, and we shouldn't underestimate the value of social connection.”

For Oliffe, this study can help move society away from the view that men use violence or substance abuse to deal with a breakup. Underlying these behaviours can be depressive emotions, he says.

The next step in his research is an ongoing study that is currently open for participants, which invites men to share the ways that they build intimate partner relationships. This research will build on the previous by exploring how men sustain relationships in addition to building insights that may help others. 

“I think what we don't have is a template of good men in good relationships who have yielded, you know, some real benefits from those partnerships,” said Oliffe. “I think for a lot of guys, being able to articulate those values I think can be really, really helpful.” 

Those interested in participating can learn more on the study’s program page.