Men's Health Week
“Emotions have no gender, don’t lock yours in the dark”
In the last decade our nation has become more open about mental health, particularly with social media highlighting many ‘Let’s Talk’ initiatives. Social media has also brought men’s mental health into the spotlight supported by many celebrities who have shared their own personal experiences of poor mental health. The Royal Princes have been proactive in opening up about their own emotional challenges after losing their mother. This was pivotal in demonstrating how vulnerability and openness connects us to each other in times of challenge.
Our mental health is beginning to feel less stigmatised and the updated Equality Act 2010 now protects people with mental health illnesses from losing their jobs or being treated less favourably in society.
In compiling a list of useful helplines for my website, I was encouraged to see that some of these charities were dedicated solely to men. These helplines were set up in response to the struggles of men, particularly in the young and middle-aged groups who are at risk of suicide through desperate loneliness, not being able to ask for their needs to be met.
Whilst talking for many really does help, there remains a hefty proportion of men who have not been able to engage with support services, finding themselves in dark, isolated places. A report compiled by Samaritans (details of which can be found at the bottom of this blog) found that less well-off middle-aged men are unlikely to reach out for support compared to other men. But also, when they do, the services often aren't right for them. It also reported that in 2019 there was a welcome decrease in the number of reported suicides in younger men.
For men, societal expectations have been built over many years about what masculinity is and that traits such as strength and ‘alpha male’ characteristics should be intrinsic. Whilst it is not wrong in wanting to embody these traits, the idea that men should be reliant on these traditional ideals maintains gender stereotyping.
There is a stigma around the idea that men don’t cry and that by showing emotions, this displays weakness. In fact, by repressing sadness, these feelings bubble inside and when triggered, may exhibit as angry outbursts. It may be difficult to know and understand where the anger comes from or how to manage it.
· What will they think if I tell them how I really feel?
· I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone who listens to me.
· If I open up, will they see my vulnerability?
· I need to be strong and ‘man up’ just like my dad.
· Men don’t cry!
· I can tell others they’re being hard on themselves but how do I take my own advice?
Once you peel back those defences, you will start to be more accepting of yourself, finding it easier to engage with your vulnerability and feel ok about showing it to others.
Anxiety and Depression
Until fairly recently, there was stigma attached to admitting you suffered with anxiety or depression and whilst we are slowly becoming better educated in supporting mental health issues, there is still a lot of work to do.
Many people struggle on alone, hunkering down until the symptoms lessen. Why should you feel muted when in the grip of anxiety or depression for fear of being judged or shamed? Now more than ever, our mental health is regarded equally as important as our physical health. It is vital that we do not hide behind our mental health and seek support.
“Depression is often found to be more difficult to diagnose in men. This is because men don't tend to complain about the typical symptoms, more often than not, it's the physical symptoms of depression that lead them to visit their doctor”.
Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read” says “The demand we be happy undermines our lives. Every life involves pain and to drown it out with pleasure, or otherwise numb it or distract ourselves or someone else from it, then we don’t learn to accept it and modify it”. When we try to block out negative feelings, we remove positive feelings too. I liken life to a sea of waves and calm. In learning to swim through the waves, we allow in vulnerability and build resilience which helps us to cope in times of pressure.
Phillipa Perry, author of “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read” says “The way we learn to relate to our parents and siblings is habit forming, a blueprint for all our relationships. If we get into the groove of having to be right, having to be the best, having to have material things, having to hide how we feel, not having our thoughts and feelings accepted as they occur, these types of dynamics can put a brake on developing our aptitude for intimacy and our capacity for happiness”. This describes how expectations of us learned in childhood create perfectionist tendencies in adulthood. These standards are unhelpful, creating conflict between the past and present.
Think about what is holding you back from reaching out. By taking ‘that step forward’ and talking to someone, you will be investing in your mental health and securing a happier future for yourself. Below are some ways in which you might want to seek support:
· Reaching out to a family member, friend or colleague
· Speaking to your GP who can refer you via the NHS for CBT
· Accessing helplines via my Useful Helplines page and by using the resources outlined below
· Investing in a Counsellor – you may need some help along the way and counselling may support you to be kinder and more compassionate towards yourself
Taking the first step in seeking help whether that is talking to a close friend or family member, or seeking professional help, should never be considered a weakness. In fact, it shows true strength and is a step in the right direction towards a healthier life.
"The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read" by Philippa Perry