Men’s/Boy’s Mental Health Awareness Week

28th Aug, 19

Men’s/Boy’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Men’s/Boy’s Mental Health Awareness Week

  • 1 in 6 men are found to suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Suicide is the largest cause of death for men under the age of 45
  • Men make up approximately 75% of all suicides
  • Men are less likely to access psychological therapies
  • Men are three times more likely to become dependent on substances

During Men’s/Boy’s Mental Health Awareness Week on the 11th June 2019 I was asked to be interviewed live by a local broadcasting firm, Learn Live. They were a great company to work for and made me feel very welcome. Since 2015 they have delivered over 350 live broadcasts and reached over 400,000 young people in schools, colleges and other educational institutions.

The broadcast focused on the important topic of men’s/boy’s mental health, highlighting relevant statistics, discussing reasons why men may struggle to talk about their mental health and emphasising the importance of men seeking help when they are struggling. A link to the full interview is provided below, along with written answers to the questions I was asked:

Learn Live UK

Questions from the interview:

How did you get into the mental health sector?

I have worked in the mental health field for over 17 years, for the past 12 years working within an educational setting. I began at the age of 17 by doing voluntary work for Barnardo’s children’s charity, subsequently working within mental health in many different settings for numerous years. I am passionate about mental health and improving outcomes for children and young people. I provide a lot of support to men and boy’s who are often very reluctant at first to discuss their mental health.

Male mental health is a topic close to my heart as one of my best friends lost her cousin a few years ago. I had been with him a few weeks prior to him taking his own life and even as a ‘mental health professional’ I had no idea he was struggling. It just goes to show how people can often mask their true feelings and which is why it is so important to encourage people to speak out and seek help. I support his family with their charity ‘Start Talking, Stop the Stigma’ which holds events to raise awareness of mental health and encourage males and boys to talk about how they are feeling.

At school and in my early teenage years I went through some personal issues and I struggled with my mental health. However, there was no school counsellor available at school and I felt unable to talk to friends and family about how I was feeling. This was why when I was older, I decided that I wanted to ensure that no other young person struggled alone in school and which is why I have done so much work in schools. I have developed a Mental Health Model for Schools and Colleges which involves raising awareness of mental health amongst students and staff, working individually with young people, training staff and running therapeutic groups. I think it is vital young people have ‘emotionally available adults’ who they can go to when they are struggling with their mental health.

Why is men’s mental health such an important topic to talk about?

Talking about mental health in general is extremely important. However, given the statistics and figures surrounding men’s mental health I believe it to be a significant topic to focus on. In the UK, suicide remains the biggest killer in men between the ages of 15 to 25, with men making up to 75% (3/4) of all suicides. Also, men are three times more likely to use potentially harmful coping strategies, such as misusing drugs and alcohol to help them cope with how they are feeling. Often men try to deal with things on their own rather than seeking help, with recent research from the Samaritans (2018) reporting that 2 out of 5 men do not seek help for their mental health.

Why is it important men/boys speak up about their feelings?

It would be great if more men felt able to speak up about their mental health as we all have mental health and any one of us can go through times of difficulty. In recent times there has been more awareness of men’s mental health and the importance of men/boys speaking about how they are feeling. Prince Harry and William, footballers, athletes, comedians etc. have spoken out about their own challenges and it is important that all men follow suit because this is helping to break down the stigma attached to mental health issues. The men who do speak up are the brave ones. It may feel like the hardest step to take but it can lead to easier and better steps too.

55% of men aged 18-24 feels like crying makes them feel less masculine (YouGov, 2018). However, research has found different levels of cortisol in tears from someone feeling sad compared with someone crying with happiness. This suggests that crying is the body’s way of releasing built up emotions. It is therefore necessary for men/boys to cry when they feel they need to, as opposed to bottling up how they are feeling.

In 2018, the mental health foundation reports that 1 in 6 men struggle with their mental health 2018. However, these statistics include only those men who have spoken up about their mental health and have therefore been recorded. Given the large proportion of men who seem to not talk to someone about how they are feeling, it is likely that there are a lot more men who are really struggling with their mental health.

What changes do you want to see in the future about men with their mental health?

I think there needs to be more mental health awareness within the workplace, with mental health first aid (MHFA) training be given parity with physical health first aid training.

Given how less men are likely to access psychological therapies, there is a need for more ‘male-friendly’ services to be made available. I think it would a good idea to perhaps provide psychological services attached to local gyms, sports clubs to try and encourage more men to attend. More qualitative research is needed exploring men’s experiences of struggling with their mental health so that we can inform service providers of what men require. Treatment needs to be tailored to males, them given more choice, with mental health support provided through a ‘male lens’.

I think early intervention and prevention is essential. There needs to be changes in terms of how mental health is approached regardless of gender. I spend most of my time working in schools and I think there is an urgent need to build resilience in all young people, males and females. It is frustrating that throughout our education we are taught about the importance of maintaining good physical health, however children are never taught about how to look after their mental health. Following a petition I helped set up and promote to bring the discussion of mental health to the curriculum, this is now occurring in most schools and I help with the content about what is taught in the schools I am employed at.

Pleased to see that recently more attention has been paid to perinatal mental health problems experienced by males. For women, pregnancy and childbirth are extremely vulnerable periods so it is great that the impact of this period on males has finally been recognized.

Is there a stigma around men’s mental health?

Although there has been a lot more awareness, there is still a stigma regarding any mental health problem. However, I think men are faced with more challenges in terms of mental health because of the existence of outdated stereotypical attitudes towards males. For example, many people still view males as being the provider and the main breadwinner, with terms such as ‘man up’ still circulating and putting pressure on men to be okay emotionally and not show how they are feeling. Men should remember that mental health affects us all regardless of gender, therefore do not feel like being a man (or the perception of what it means to be a ‘man’) is a barrier to finding the path to a healthier and happier you.

I also think there is stigma attached to the term mental health therefore maybe we need to consider this and explore the language we use when describing emotional difficulties.

Why Is it that men might not want to be open about their feelings?

Like mentioned in the previous question it is much to do with people’s perceptions of males and the expectations placed on men. I think a lot of men feel pressured to be the head of the household within the family unit. Most men do not want to come across as weak, thinking they need to be strong and not show emotion. Many of my clients report that their parents/grandparents tell them to “get over things”, and if they struggle to talk about their mental health then clients subsequently find it difficult to do so.

What are the benefits of seeking help and making that choice to get therapy?

I think the most important, and hardest part, for anyone is for them to admit they are struggling and that they need some help. Regardless of the therapy that someone receives, what is vital is that they develop a strong therapeutic relationship with their therapist and can be open and honest with them. No approach fits all so it is important to meet with the client and find out which approach works best for them.

Although getting help is a very hard step to take, it can lead to much easier and better steps too. Research shows that men will seek help if the help which is available meets their preferences, is easily accessed, meaningful and engaging.

What would you say to a man/boy who feels they need help?

It is important for you to be brave and reach out for help, although I know the most difficult part is admitting you are struggling and accepting that you need some help. If you had broken your leg or were struggling with a physical health problem, then you are likely to go to the doctors or hospital to get it seen to. Our mental health is just as important as your physical health, so why do so many of males (and females) struggle to seek treatment when it concerns their mental health? Men should try to consider why they find it uncomfortable asking for help and whether these reasons are stopping them from getting the support they need.

A lot of men struggle with their mental health and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Try and talk to someone you trust and tell them how you are feeling, either a family member, friend or health professional. Research shows that males are less likely to speak to friends or family for fear of judgement, however often these fears are because of how they are feeling and frequently men tell me that when they do have the courage to talk to friends and family that they do not judge them like they thought they would. If you find it difficult to verbalize how you feel then write it down, either through writing a letter, an email or a text message. Also, if you did not feel ready to speak to a professional then you are able to complete some psychological therapies online, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

It will also be useful to look online at some reputable websites which will give you useful information to help explain how you are feeling. Reading more and learning about the varied advice and guidance that is available can be helpful, as well as reading stories from other people who have experienced similar things to you.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to help someone who is suffering silently?

If you are aware of someone struggling, then the best thing you can do is let them know that you are concerned about them and that you are always there for them for when they feel ready to talk. Explain how talking about problems can often help you feel better, also it allows you to obtain another person’s point of view on the situation. Also, gently try to encourage them to seek professional help by going to see their G.P. They do not have to take medication if they did not want too because there are psychological therapies available, primarily CBT and counselling. If you are concerned the person may be at risk of harming themselves, then it is important for you to seek urgent help and take them to A&E if needed.

When asking someone how they are feeling I would always recommend asking them twice. When asked how they are, men will often say that they’re “alright” even if they are not feeling okay. By repeating the question and asking someone again if they are okay, it shows it is a safe place to talk and that you are interested in their reply. Often, when we say hello to people and ask them how they are, we hurry past people without even waiting for them to reply.

Other advice to someone that I would give is that there is only so much you can do to try and help another person who is struggling. Although it is important you let the person know that you are concerned and encourage them to seek help, do not blame yourself if the person chooses not to. It is difficult when you are worried about someone you care about, but ensure you look after yourselves through as well.

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