Why men need to talk more
‘Man up’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘strong and silent’, ‘be a real man’, all things said in jest but when they’re reinforcing a harmful gender stereotype, well, they don’t really seem that funny do they? The stereotypes that ‘masculine’ men don’t have emotions or, if they do, they certainly don’t talk about them, is not only outdated and unhelpful, it’s also killing us. Literally.
On International Men’s Day, we look at why not talking is doing us harm and offer up some expert tips on how to open up more.
Men’s mental health: the stats
The numbers paint an alarming picture. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Nearly three-quarters of those who die by suicide are male. Men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent and more likely to use and die from illegal drugs. And in the Government’s national well-being survey, men reported significantly lower life satisfaction than women.
It’s obvious that many men are struggling with mental health, yet the number seeking psychological help for illnesses such as anxiety and depression is much lower than it is for females.
While the reasons for men failing to seek help may be many and varied, feeling unable to talk about things is certainly a contributing factor. Particularly when opening up and sharing can still be seen as a ‘weakness’.
More than a third of men say they would be embarrassed to take time off work for a mental illness such as depression, and research shows that men are more likely to seek help for an issue when they feel it is ‘socially accepted’.
Luckily, things are changing and a wider range of issues are becoming increasingly socially acceptable, in part thanks to influential people bringing them to the fore on social media and in the news.
Celebrities talking about mental health
The stigma surrounding mental health and talking about emotions is slowly being lifted. This has been helped by a number of high profile campaigns such as Mental Health Awareness Month and International Men’s Day, charities including CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) and also a number of male celebrities coming forward to talk about their own mental health issues.
Boxer Ricky Hatton spoke about suicidal thoughts following a knockout defeat in the ring in 2009. Talking to the Sun this year as part of the paper’s You’re Not Alone suicide prevention campaign, he admitted contemplating suicide every week for a year.
“I could come in the gym to train with the boys and they’d think I was alright, but I’d go home and sit there crying. Without even a drink in me, I'd get the knife out and do it again,” he said.
Hatton is not the only one. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson posted about his issues with depression on Instagram writing, "We all go thru the sludge/shit and depression never discriminates. Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone."
Other sports stars – an occupation traditionally seen as ‘butch’ or ‘masculine’ – have been open about their feelings. Swimmer Michael Phelps has talked about going to therapy while former England and Arsenal footballer Tony Adams has discussed depression and how visiting the doctor helped him get his life back on track.
Even the Royals are getting on board. Prince William and Harry, along with the Duchess of Cambridge, are spearheading Heads Together, a mental health initiative, actively campaigning to tackle stigma and negative associations.
Harry revealed his desire to help "normalise the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go ‘you know what, I’ve had a really bad day, can I just tell about it? Because then you walk away and it’s done.”
It seems that gradually it’s becoming ok to say you’re not ok.
Who do you to talk to?
If you are feeling low or struggling, Lee Cambule from the mental health charity, Mind Cymru, who suffered from depression as a teen, gives his advice for tackling mental health challenges:
- Talk to someone you trust, a close friend or family member, maybe even your doctor (my sister was the first person I could open up)
- Consider why you find it uncomfortable asking for help and whether those reasons are actually stopping you from getting the support you need
- Find a support group, there are many around the country that are free and open to anyone
- Consider what your weapons are in this fight (i.e. the ways you combat poor mental health) – it could be anything from regular exercise to spending time with friends (for me, creative writing helps to lift me during the darker days)
- Find stories and case studies that will help you understand what other men have been through
- Get involved in the great campaigns and activities that raise awareness of mental health
- Read more about mental health and the varied guidance and advice that is easily accessible
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