Mental health is a hot topic with any number of books, magazines and television programmes dedicated to exploring it, including documentaries by well known celebrities who have struggled with their own mental health, including Stephen Fry and Professor Green. And yet, in spite of this attempt to lift the taboo, it would seem that many men still believe that having issues of this nature is something to keep quiet about. In fact, a quarter of the men polled in a YouGov survey admitted that they had never sought professional help for their mental health concerns. More worrying still are the results taken from a ‘Men’s Health Forum’ study, which demonstrated that nearly 80% of suicide victims are male making it the biggest cause of death for men under 35.
Witnessing a loved ones’ refusal to take charge of this crucial aspect of their health can be devastating for family and friends who see them struggling, but there are ways we can support them and encourage the men in our lives to open up and take action.
40% of men say they stay silent about their mental health because they have “learnt to deal with it”, 29% say that they are “too embarrassed” to talk to anyone and 20% worry about the “negative stigma around this type of thing”. According to this survey, created and run by The Priory, nearly 250 respondents felt that going to the doctor was a waste of time, and yet, with 77% of men having suffered from some form of of anxiety, stress or depression, it is crucial that they do feel comfortable to speak up before it is too late.
Though mental health issues can make you feel alone with your problems, the biggest worries for men were ‘pressures at work’ and ‘financial concerns’, but we can all, male or female, understand this types of concerns, and finding a safe place to talk about them can be hugely beneficial to lifting the cloud.
To help them feel less alone with their fears and thoughts, find a time to naturally start a conversation around the issue they seem to be struggling with the most. Begin by discussing how you are feeling regarding this area of your life before gently leading the conversation in the direction of their feelings on the topic. Dr Sally Spencer-Thomas from Mental Health America explains that “men are much more likely to accept help when there is a chance for reciprocity [as this] this wards off the feeling of “weakness” that is often associated with asking for help.” In other words, if you ask for support first, it may encourage him to open up too.
When men are struggling with their mental health, it is common for them to react angrily, use recreational drugs and/or drink more heavily. Unfortunately for men, hot-headedness and drinking a few beers are both seen as ‘male traits’ which may lead them to think that these reactions are normal and not worth bothering a GP with!
It is important for you to notice changes in their behaviour and to speak up when it starts to worry you. It may be easy to assume that we understand what is going in his life, but chances are we don’t so do not go into the conversation saying “I think you have depression“. Instead, meet him where he is and state undeniable facts: “You seem far frustrated at the moment – has something changed?”
This could lead to a conversation around how he is feeling, though more likely it will instigate a chat about something more specific going on at work or at home which is bothering him. ‘A problem shared’ may be the push he needs to see that he has been bottling things up for too long and that talking is beneficial to do.
If a loved one in your life knows he is struggling with his mental health but still remains reluctant to get support, then you can try to reframe what ‘help’ means. Many men assume that going to the GP signifies a weakness in them which may end up with them crying, being forced to open up or being put on medication.
By explaining to him that ‘help’ can actually mean receiving some concrete support with the issues in his life which are causing him stress or anxiety, it may encourage him to make the call. Psychology Today explains that “stereotypically, it’s the woman who wants emotional support and the man who wants to problem solve”, so if you reframe his stress or anxiety from being something unsolvable and ‘weak’, and instead turn it into something which is perfectly normal which he can ‘deal with’ head on and ‘fix’ he may feel able to take action, just as he would fix a flat tyre or a broken appliance.
Sport England has researched the links between physical activity and mental health and has found that it can improve mood, reduce stress, improve self-esteem and prevent or help with the management of depression and anxiety. GP’s also recommend sport because the physical exertion causes changes within the brain, including a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and the absorption of serotonin, both of which are only otherwise possible with drugs. This is especially important as Health Line explains “…[serotonin] impacts every part of your body…[and] is considered a natural mood stabilizer”.
So suggest a sport or club you could try together, ask a friend to invite them along to a club they are a member of such as a rugby team, or, depending on their state of mind, you could find a local sports team or activity which they may enjoy going to on their own. If work plays a big part in their life, they could even look to join or start a club with colleagues such as a 5 aside team or a regular bowling night. Once they see the positive difference which sport can have on their mental health, they may feel comfortable to carry on this kind of habit and perhaps even reach out for support elsewhere.
Some men do not wish to seek help from their GP but the experts at Click Pharmacy offer Skype and email consultations in the privacy of your home which may be a preferable first step in helping them get their health back.