"Man up" - talking about men's mental health
Last month, I was very privileged to be asked to help present an introductory workshop on men's mental health. It's an interesting topic for several reasons, most notably because it's not something that gets discussed much. The issues that men suffer are no different to women, and we feel them in the same way, but it's different in one key area - we don't talk about it. We don’t talk about it to our male friends, our family members or even our GP. Why is this?
In most cases men just aren't expected, or sometimes even allowed to discuss what's troubling them. How many times have you heard someone say "boys don't cry" or “man up”. Or looked to a male figure, such as a father or grandfather, to be the strong dependable one? Society creates a pressure on men to be be strong, independent, to cope with whatever is happening and not to crumble under the stress. In British culture, we can add the "stiff upper lip" mentality to that also. This permeates our whole society, from the government down. At the start of 2016 when the government pledged additional spending towards mental health, much was made of women gaining help for postnatal depression, anxiety, depression and eating disorders for the under 21’s, but no mention that four out of every five suicides are men, or the stigma around men seeking support.
For men, admitting our issues can be seen as a weakness, or a sign of failure, most notably in the eyes of other men. Statistics show that men don't feel comfortable talking about the issues they're facing. This is the barrier that we need to overcome before we can start making and real or lasting headway with this issue. One in eight men will be diagnosed with a common mental health issue like anxiety or depression, and that’s just the men who come forward with an issue. It’s more common that we think. Mental health in general needs a rebranding to make it acceptable to all to seek help and support, but for men in particular, this normalising is of paramount importance so that men can begin to open up about what they’re feeling.
If we can break the silence around mental health, then we can make the issues more manageable than keeping them locked away... fighting anxiety, or depression is hard. It’s much, much harder trying to do it in the dark. Hold those conversations with friends and family members. Let them know that it’s okay to talk about it. Let people know that admitting things aren’t okay is not a weakness. It takes immense courage to break through the stigma around men’s mental health, and anyone able to do that is taking a huge step towards facing the issues, getting the support they need and living a more fulfilling life.
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