How limited participation from men can impact research outcomes
At any given time, volunteering to help with research can be frustrating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has signed up to complete a pesky survey that promises to take only 10 minutes but leaves me scrolling through endless pages of question after question after question...But what does it mean if we don't participate in research?
Some burning questions about the non-participants
When we decide to complete surveys or be interviewed by researchers, it’s usually because we are invested in what they are researching. The thing is, this investment influences what information we give to researchers. Which can lead researchers to ask: What kind of information would the people who don’t participate add? How much would their participation change the results of a study?
Mental health research
Often mental health research is conducted to provide information that brings about transformation. Some research is used to help change policy, education procedures, or services that can help support or protect people who experience mental health problems. However, gathering accurate information that represents all peoples can be a challenge. Particularly when we consider barriers like stigma, confidentiality and distrust.
Differences in participation according to gender
Typically, there are fewer men who participate in research about mental health. A review of clinical psychological studies shows that women often represent 60% of study participation and men, 40%. This underrepresentation of men can be noticed in research, like this 2018 study about smartphone addiction and depression where just under 34% of the participants were male. Some research also shows that fewer male university students seek help for mental health problems, which might reflect how stigma can make it difficult to recruit men for mental health research.
How does this influence the research?
Any group that is underrepresented in research ultimately accounts for limited information representing their story, their opinions. If less men participate in mental health research, then the researchers learn less about their mental health and ways to support them. This also means that any changes that are made based on research findings may not be as effective for men.
What men have to say about their mental health is equally as important as any other group of people. This is particularly important given that the suicide rate in Australia is on average three times greater in men than women, and men often resort to unhealthy coping strategies including substance abuse, social withdrawal, gambling or overwork.
So where does this leave us? Ultimately, we need more men to participate in mental health research. Which means we need to find ways to help men feel more invested in the research, and ways to help them overcome barriers like stigma. If you have any suggestions on how we can make this happen, feel free to contact me.
What are men saying in my own survey on mental health for art students?
Preliminary findings from my survey indicate that, like women, male art students can experience challenges that cause worry. They cope with these times through various methods, including: procrastination; listening to music; talking about their problems; gaming; sports; and drinking or taking drugs.
For further reading see:
McIntyre, D., Rowland, M., Choi, K., & Sarkin, A. (2014). Gender differences in the relationships between mental health symptoms, impairment, and treatment-related behaviors among college students. Mental Health & Prevention, 2(3), 80-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhp.2014.11.001
Patel, R., Oduola, S., Callard, F., Wykes, T., Broadbent, M., Stewart, R., Craig, T., McGuire, P. (2017). What proportion of patients with psychosis is willing to take part in research? A mental health electronic case register analysis. BMJ Open, 7(3).
Woodall, A., Morgan, C., Sloan, C., & Howard, L. (2010). Barriers to participation in mental health research: are there specific gender, ethnicity and age related barriers? BMC Psychiatry, 10, 103-103. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-10-103