9+ reasons why men won’t discuss their mental health:
It’s Men’s Mental Health week (15th -21st June, 2020) and my brother comes to mind. He lives with bipolar disorder and it breaks my heart seeing him struggle. So for him, I’ve chosen to repost this article Learn why men won’t discuss their mental health.
The Priory (A Private Care Group 2015) commissioned a survey in 2015 to uncover men’s attitudes to their own mental health. It concluded that 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health. Some of the reasons given were:
- Some say they just deal with it, or they’ve learnt how to ignore it
- Many would say they’re too embarrassed to admit to it
- They’re afraid of the stigma
- They don’t want to burden anyone i.e. wife, partner, best friend
- Some don’t want to admit they need support or don’t want to come across as weak and
- some say they don’t have anyone to talk to
- They don’t feel comfortable even talking to their GP, worried they’re wasting their Doctors’ time
- Afraid if they mention it, they’ll lose their job or their partner
- Worry that by displaying their vulnerability, they’ll lose the respect of others.
Mental illness is ‘living hell’
Mental illness is at best, very unpleasant and at worst, it’s absolute hell. In the western world, it’s a major reason for people having to take time off work. Yet many men still don’t like to admit to their bosses that they’re stressed or that they have a mental illness, they’d rather invent some other excuse.
As a mental health nurse, I had the honour of working with hundreds of strong and amazing men. Each had their own humbling story about how they got to where they were, and I shed tears on more than one occasion. However, despite all the care and support in the world, some patients just couldn’t hold on — I know of many male suicides, and it never got any easier to hear.
Fact — There were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Three-quarters of these deaths (4,903) were among men.
Why the problem with men and their mental health?
Does it come down to the way men were brought up and the messages they learned at home or in the playground? “Don’t be such a cissy” or “You big girl’s blouse”. These are dated and dysfunctional responses to little boys and we have much to do to change all this.
Men need to understand that mental illness isn’t shameful or a sign of weakness. It’s a real and common medical issue, and everyone who suffers deserves help.
Sometimes men cover thing up by using subtle language like they’re down the pub with a pal and say “Oh, you know what it’s like, sometimes you just want to be on your own” instead of “I feel really down, can I talk to you?” Perhaps they snap at their partner “You wouldn’t know how damn hard my job is” when maybe they mean “I feel like I’m being picked on at work, can we chat about it?“
Furthermore, tho’ more women are diagnosed with mental health problems, men are less likely to seek help. They’re also more likely to commit suicide, mainly before the age of 50. Because men don’t like to admit to having a mental illness, they’re not accessing mental health services, and so — they go undiagnosed and untreated.
Some symptoms you might notice
Mental health signs and symptoms can vary, depending on the diagnosis, and can affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Being able to recognize and accept the signs that you or someone you know might have a mental health disorder is the first step. Symptoms might include:
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows — different from your ‘normal’ mental state and for more than two weeks
- Hopelessness, or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure from things that used to provide enjoyment)
- Confused thinking, unable to make simple decisions and reduced ability to concentrate
- Significant low energy, tiredness, or problems sleeping, constantly waking up early i.e. 3-4 a.m.
- Constant restlessness, can’t sit still, fidgeting
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that other people can’t see).
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt/shame
- Unable to understand and relate to situations and to people – might come across as confused when they try to interact
- Inability to cope with activities of daily living i.e. not eating or drinking (non-alcoholic) enough and inability to tend self-care
- Displaying excessive hostility, anger, or violence — masking underlying physical or mental disorders
- Changes in alcohol or drug intake — they could be self-medicating
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Major changes in sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation
While lots of people have some of these symptoms some of the time, it’s very different to mental health symptoms. With depression for example, your GP would expect you to have a cluster of symptoms, all at the same time and for more than 2 weeks.
How to help a man experiencing mental illness
Are you or someone you know experiencing mental illness? Are you having suicidal thoughts? Would you know what to do?
- You can be there for them, just listening and I know this is hard but — don’t interrupt, listen actively (for more on listening skills see here).
- Tell them they will get through this, they will stay safe and these thoughts will pass.
- Ask if they’re having suicidal thoughts and if so, do they have any intent i.e. do they have a plan and the means — if they do, you need to call their GP or other professional. *Asking if someone is suicidal will not make them go and do it! And stay with them ’til help arrives
- Do not give advice if you’re not a trained mental health professional, you might give the wrong advice. Instead, offer information and signpost them or take them to the appropriate services.
- Try not to ask them why they feel depressed/anxious/suicidal — it’s not helpful right now and all you’ll likely get is a list of reasons — think on, what would you do with all this?
- Try not to offer platitudes, rather reflect, paraphrase, summarize. You’ll get more if you ask open-ended rather than closed (yes or no) questions. And don’t be scared about silences or filling the gaps.
- Let them know they’re not a burden and tell them that you’ll get through this together but — don’t make promises you can’t keep, if you let them down, that might make them feel worse.
- Tell them they’re not alone; many others experience mental illness and lead fulfilling lives — they have good jobs and are contributing towards society, they’re married or dating, they have good social lives and they’re able to carry out their activities of daily living.
What more can you do?
- Explain that some mental illnesses are a result of chemical changes in the brain — it’s not about being weak and failing — at times we live in a hostile, stressful, demanding and right now, a scary world.
- Some symptoms of a mental illness mimic physical illnesses at times, such as headaches, general aches and pains so they must see a GP to see if there’s any underlying physical problems that need treatment.
- You can’t force someone to access professional care, but you can support them in making an appointment with a mental health professional and you can offer to go with them?
- If someone has self-harmed or is considering doing so, take the person to the hospital or call for emergency help.
- Don’t make throw away statement such as “You can’t be depressed, you’ve got a nice car, a big house etc.” If a man says he’s feeling anxious or depressed — trust me, he is!
- If you think someone is showing signs of psychosis and they’re paranoid, try to remain calm, give them reassurances that they’re safe with you and that no harm will come to them — stay with them — only if it’s safe to do so! Otherwise, be aware, stay safe and call for emergency help immediately.
So how can we reduce this gap and improve men’s mental health?
Hugh Martin, founder of counselling service Man Enough, says the first step is to encourage conversations within organisations – such as sporting clubs, groups and workplaces – making space available for men to talk about how they’re going.
More than that; we need to be teaching our children about men’s mental health, emotions and how to manage or cope with them.
Let little boys know it’s okay to cry if they’re hurt or sad. Show them pictures of different faces, showing anger, smiles, laughing, shy, happy and sad – get them to point to a face that will explain how they’re feeling right now. Never tell them “big boy’s don’t cry.”
Would you be able to help a man who’s experiencing mental health problems? What’s your experience of men and their emotional difficulties? I’d love to hear your comments and I’m happy to answer any questions.
You may find the following articles useful:
- Anxiety in men
- Reading a previous post 19 free mental health apps just for you here
- Or Tips to help with your anxiety and panic attacks here
- Attending a self-help course in person or online
- There’s A powerful new mental health book featuring personal experiences from men and their partners urges men to open up – not ‘man up’. Big Boys Don’t Cry? contains 60 individual anecdotes from men working in a diverse range of careers from lawyers, postmen and soldiers to construction workers, Big Issue sellers and elite sports stars.