Leveraging physical activity to engage men in mental health promotion: Informing future directions for lifestyle interventions

      Background: Men’s mental health promotion presents unique challenges and opportunities that demand novel approaches to prevention, treatment, and management. Community-based lifestyle interventions targeted at healthy behaviour change (e.g., physical activity) have been identified as a promising avenue to engage men in mental health promotion as these settings may reduce barriers to help-seeking. However, research is needed to identify strategies for designing and delivering relevant intervention content that supports men’s mental health. The aim of this study was to develop intervention content and distil recommendations for the development of gender-tailored interventions that engage men in mental health promotion.
      Methods: This study included an iterative multi-phase participatory design process with Australian men (18+ years) and stakeholders with frontline experience working in men’s health. In Phase 1, five focus groups (n=43 men; 16 stakeholders) were conducted as part of a pre-design consultation process to examine men’s experiences and perspectives of mental health promotion, and the role that physical activity may play. In Phase 2, a sub-sample of participants (n=4 men; 2 stakeholders) attended a generative design workshop where ideas, insights and concepts identified during Phase 1 were further explored to inform intervention design and development. In Phase 3, intervention content and activities were developed and a sample of men (n=21) who registered to participate in a lifestyle intervention were invited to provide feedback on the prototypes during a one-on-one semi-structured telephone interview.
      Results: Inductive thematic analysis identified two overarching themes and related subthemes from the participatory design process; (1) Communicating mental health and well-being, revealing acceptable language and approaches for discussing mental health with men including the use of colloquial masculine language, analogy and association, and strength-based calls-to-action, and (2) Intervention content and activities, detailing participant generated intervention content and activities designed to create buy-in and foster spaces for open frank discussions, target multiple behaviours (e.g., physical activity and mental health) through action-oriented approaches, and include opportunities for personalisation and autonomy.
      Discussion: As emergent programs and services are developed to augment traditional clinical services, it is imperative that evidence-based strategies are utilised that engage and retain men in mental health promotion. Findings provide vital clues for how men’s interest in sport and physical activity can be leveraged to directly and indirectly engage men in mental health promotion. These findings have direct relevance to community programming and may be embedded within existing interventions or used to inform new mental health promotion programs for men.
      Conflict of interest statement: My co-authors and I acknowledge that we have no conflict of interest of relevance to the submission of this abstract.