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Mental ill-health is a significant social and public health problem in the Nordic countries. Multiple studies also show that mental health problems have increased in the Nordic countries in recent years, particularly among young people. According to the studies included in this research overview, there are gender differences when it comes to mental ill-health. It is apparent that gender, sexuality and masculinity norms play an important role in how young men manage and experience their mental health.
This research overview is based on a systematic overview of research and relevant literature from the Nordic countries between 2018 and 2022, with a focus on young men between the ages of 15 and 30 years. The overall purpose of the overview is to highlight current knowledge about young men’s mental health problems by investigating what causes these problems, and their consequences. The overview focuses in particular on knowledge about young men’s mental health in relation to current conditions and challenges in education and training and the workplace in the Nordic countries. The study also highlights knowledge about the impacts of the pandemic on young men’s mental health, where increased unemployment, distance teaching and isolation have risked reinforcing negative spirals in mental well-being.
The overview does not claim to be comprehensive, although there has been an endeavour to present current research on the topic from a Nordic countries’ perspective. The overview also presents research and grey literature from all the Nordic countries. It also sets out the practical implications of improving support and initiatives to promote young men’s mental health, including early detection, accessible psychosocial support in schools, and individualised measures for young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs).
Young men’s health and masculinity norms are closely intertwined and are embedded in social discourse. Traditional masculinity norms emphasise traits that have been shown to be obstacles to seeking help. They are also an obstacle to valuing connection and relationships that increase well-being and can provide resilience against many forms of mental ill-health. Young men’s lower propensity to seek help compared to young women is well known, and feeling that they must deal with their difficulties alone, without having anyone to turn to, can lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression, and ultimately an increased risk of suicide.
The studies included in this overview also show that health problems such as depression and anxiety can lead to poor attachment to or non-completion of education and training and subsequent poor attachment to the labour market. The studies also suggest that unemployment is linked to an increased risk of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, among young people. Precarious employment conditions are also linked to mental health problems, and young workers with precarious employment conditions are at an increased risk of mental health problems and poorer mental health compared to those who have more stable employment.
The relationship between mental health on the one hand and education and training and the workplace on the other is complex. Mental health and well-being are the strongest predictors of a positive experience of school. But this overview also shows that mental ill-health can largely be seen as a product of poor experiences of education and training systems and a poor work environment. Education and training institutions and workplaces can also reproduce norms and notions of masculinity and thus hinder practices such as seeking help or establishing meaningful relationships.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this negative health spiral and affected young people’s lives in multiple areas. The pandemic has had severe consequences for young people – for pupils and students as well as those in work. Studies in the overview show that an insecure labour market and increased unemployment, especially among young adults, distance teaching, social isolation and reduced opportunities for leisure activities, have had a negative impact on mental well-being.
Some of these factors were defining factors for young men’s health during the pandemic. For example, they were at risk of increased substance abuse, increased online gambling and gaming, and decreased sleep. This may have been due to factors such as lack of access to activities and a society that had shut down, where social life was being lived in new ways. From the research overview, it can be seen that suicide rates increased among teenage boys and young men in the Nordic countries. Furthermore, the rate of self-injury in adolescents with non-binary gender identity increased drastically. This shows that non-binary young people are a very vulnerable group who are in need of extra support.  
In summary, young men face many challenges when it comes to contemporary masculinity in the Nordic countries, although the impact of masculinity norms on mental health can vary between groups and countries. From the collected material, a number of needs for knowledge and knowledge gaps can be identified. The material demonstrates that there is a great need to better understand and address the increase in mental health problems among young men in the Nordic countries. Given the ongoing challenges in the wake of the pandemic, it is important to prioritise measures and initiatives.

Research overview point by point

  • Mental ill-health and gender: Men find it more difficult to seek help for mental health problems because of masculinity norms and mental ill-health being stigmatised.
  • School effects: School closures and distance teaching during the pandemic have negatively affected young people’s well-being and learning, in particular young men.
  • Education and training and the workplace: Young men who are neither studying nor working pose a challenge and need individualised support to enter the labour market.
  • Effects of the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on young people’s mental health, with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms, especially among young women.
  • Physical activity and lifestyle: Physical activity has positive effects on young people’s mental health and performance at work, but many young men reduced their physical activity during the pandemic.
  • Gambling addiction and high-risk behaviours: Problematic gambling is more common among young men than young women and has a negative impact on their schooling as well as their working lives.
  • Body dissatisfaction: When teenagers feel dissatisfied with their bodies, it affects their school performance and well-being.
  • Intervention and support: Early interventions, access to psychosocial support at school, and reducing the stigma around mental ill-health are important measures for promoting young men’s mental health.