Let us all talk to men and help them to open up as society opens up!
Men’s mental health is a topic dear to my heart. As a mental health practitioner, I work with men of different age groups and backgrounds who are suffering from mental health problems. When I chat or assess these men, I have realised that some causes of their mental health problem have underlying issues such as family upbringing, societal expectations, fear of failure and other factors.
According to Research, in England 1 in 4 men suffers mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and in control. While these are not inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up. Societal expectations and traditional gender roles play a role in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems.
There is evidence that suggests that men who cannot speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.
I will share an example of what mental health problems in men can look like and how they can come about. For confidentiality purposes, the names used are NOT real.
Peter ended up in prison because his partner reported to the police that he assaulted her after he broke up with her. Peter has never experienced any signs, symptoms, or history of mental health problems.
He shared a cell with Victor, and they became good friends.
Victor was in prison because he was caught selling illegal drugs due to financial difficulties as he was unable to care for his family. Being the breadwinner of his family, now in prison and not able to help, his family continued to struggle. Victor and his partner would always argue, and each call or conversation always ended up in a huge disagreement and fall out. This had an impact on his mental health.
He opened up to Peter who advised him to speak to the mental health team, but Victor did not.
Peter quoted Victor telling him that “I am alright it is the usual thing a man has to deal with, and I have to be strong for my family”. A few days later, during the night, Peter woke up and found Victor dead as Victor had committed suicide.
This incident had an extremely negative impact on Peter’s mental health.
Peter started showing symptoms of mental health problems such as lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, losing interest in the things he used to enjoy (such as engaging with other prisoners, staff and exercising daily) and feeling very tearful. He was having anxiety and struggled to sleep at night. He said that every time he closed his eyes that he had flashbacks of what happened to Victor that night. He also blamed himself (full of regret for what happened to Victor). Peter also started experiencing suicidal thoughts but said that he would not act on them because he was a Christian and that it was against his beliefs.
Many people especially men are going through difficult times even though they do not look like it. Some of us have been made to believe that because an individual appears happy and looks good on the outside, then they are fine. We tend not to be sensitive or aware that they could be in pain and might be struggling Even though they are engaging and showing us a side of them that seems as if everything is ok.
However, just asking someone “how are you?” and being patient to listen can go a long way and save someone’s life.
I have spoken to many men who have told me that sharing their problems make them feel vulnerable and weak. While some told me that they struggle to trust others with their concerns/issues.
During my conversations, I have learnt to ask more open-ended questions rather than closed questions as this gives the individual opportunity to open up and speak freely. I also listen intensely during a conversation, picking up words from what has been said and asking questions around whichever areas that I might have a concern about and want to address. Asking open-ended questions helps a lot and many men have found this helpful and see it as an opportunity to be open and seek help especially when they know that they will not be judged.
By Deborah Adewusi @behealthywithdebs
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available.
Speak to Samaritans:
Helpline: 116 123 (free of charge from a landline or mobile)
24 hr helpline offering emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide