Find out why men won’t discuss their mental health

9+ reasons why men won’t discuss their mental health:

Grey scale image of man standing close to the edge of a cliff, over water
Man contemplating suicide —
Image by alamy.com

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:

  1. Some say they just deal with it, or they’ve learnt how to ignore it
  2. Many would say they’re too embarrassed to admit to it
  3. They’re afraid of the stigma
  4. They don’t want to burden anyone i.e. wife, partner, best friend
  5. Some don’t want to admit they need support or don’t want to come across as weak and
  6. some say they don’t have anyone to talk to
  7. They don’t feel comfortable even talking to their GP, worried they’re wasting their Doctors’ time
  8. Afraid if they mention it, they’ll lose their job or their partner
  9. Worry that by displaying their vulnerability, they’ll lose the respect of others.

Mental illness is ‘living hell’

Grey scale image of a young man seated with his head in his hands
Man in mental pain – Image by
Talkspace.com

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?

Grey scale image of man holding onto a noose hanging from above
Shadow of sad man hanging – Image by istockphoto.com

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:

Grey scale image of man's face, tears running down
Sad and crying – Image by
Leandro de Carvalho at pixabay.com
  1. Extreme mood changes of highs and lows — different from your ‘normal’ mental state and for more than two weeks
  2. Hopelessness, or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure from things that used to provide enjoyment)
  3. Confused thinking, unable to make simple decisions and reduced ability to concentrate
  4. Significant low energy, tiredness, or problems sleeping, constantly waking up early i.e. 3-4 a.m.
  5. Constant restlessness, can’t sit still, fidgeting
  6. Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that other people can’t see).
  7. Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt/shame
  8. Unable to understand and relate to situations and to people – might come across as confused when they try to interact
  9. Inability to cope with activities of daily living i.e. not eating or drinking (non-alcoholic) enough and inability to tend self-care
  10. Displaying excessive hostility, anger, or violence — masking underlying physical or mental disorders
  11. Changes in alcohol or drug intake — they could be self-medicating
  12. Withdrawal from friends and activities
  13. Major changes in sex drive
  14. 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?

Lone man – Is he suicidal? -Image Pexel.com
  1. 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).
  2. Tell them they will get through this, they will stay safe and these thoughts will pass.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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?
  12. If someone has self-harmed or is considering doing so, take the person to the hospital or call for emergency help.
  13. 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!
  14. 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?

Coloured image of 4 youngsters, 3 girls and 1 boy, making faces for the camera
Little boys and girls need education
– Image by Pexels.com

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 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.”

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Clipart.com

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.

10 Myths and facts about mental illness

As a former mental health nurse and ward manager for many years in one of London’s busiest mental health settings I was used to the many misconceptions people (including carers, visitors, family and friends) had. Here are my top 10.

  1. Mental illness won’t affect me. FACT – Mental illnesses are surprisingly common; they do not discriminate—they can affect anyone. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week. (mind.org.uk)
  2. People with mental illness are just weak. FACT: Mental health disorders are not a personal choice nor are they caused by personal weakness. Mental illness is a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Research has shown genetic and biological factors are associated with schizophrenia, depression, and alcoholism. Social influences, such as loss of a loved one or a job, can also contribute to the development of various disorders.
  3. You can tell when someone has a mental illness. FACT: Many people think you can see when someone has a mental illness—maybe they think that a mentally ill person looks different, acts crazy, or always comes across as depressed or anxious. This is not true. Anyone can have a mental illness, even if they look completely normal, seem happy, or have a lot of money, a great job and a big house. (redbookmag.com)
  4. People don’t recover from mental illnesses. FACT: Recovery is absolutely possible. The illness might not go away forever but lots of people with mental health problems still work, have families and lead full lives. Recovering from mental illness includes not only getting better, but achieving a meaningful and satisfying life. Being told that you have a mental illness is not the end of the world. With help and support, people can recover and achieve their life’s ambitions.
  5. People with mental health issues can’t work. FACT:  With one in four people affected by mental illness, you probably work with someone with a mental health problem. Many people can and do work with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, with little impact on productivity. However, like any illness, there are times when the person isn’t able to work due to the severity of the condition.
  6. People with schizophrenia are violent. FACT: Modern media has been guilty of regularly portraying people with mental illness as violent. In truth, this is rarely the case. People with mental health problems are much more likely to be the victim of violence. While research has shown there is an increased risk of violence in those living with schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder, in general, mental health sufferers are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves. Official statistics consistently show that most violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who don’t have mental health problems.
  7. People with mental health problems are lazy and should just snap out of it. FACT: This is certainly not true. There’s lots reasons why some people might look lazy as many experience fatigue and lethargy as side effects of their medication but this is not laziness. People cannot just snap out of a mental health problem and lots of people may need help to get better. This help might include medication, counselling and lots of support from their care team, friends and family.
  8. People with mental illness rely on medication. FACT: Medication can be used on a short-term basis, especially for depression and anxiety, but for other mental illnesses, medication is used long-term. Mental illness is not like a physical illness because it can’t always be treated with one single medication. Often, a group of medications is needed for someone with a mental health disorder i.e. antipsychotics and antidepressants together with antiemetic medication to treat the side effects of antipsychotics.
  9. Mental illness is “all in your head. It’s not a real medical problem. FACT: There’s still a common belief that someone with anxiety can “just calm down” or someone with depression can “snap out of it” like they can pick how and when to have an episode come or go. That’s simply not true. There are very real physical symptoms. Someone who has depression may see changes in appetite, libido and sleep pattern and someone with anxiety might feel breathless, have palpitations and feel nauseous or dizzy.
  10. Asking someone about suicidal thoughts and feelings might make them do it. FACT: If someone says they are thinking about suicide, it can be very distressing. You might not know what to do to help, whether to take talk of suicide seriously, or if your talking about it will make the situation worse. However, asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings (Mayoclinic.org).

Unfortunately these myths about mental health problems often contribute to the stigma that many people still face. It’s so important that we challenge these myths so we can understand the real facts around a mental illness.

If you have had any of the feeling or described above, please find someone to talk to. You can always talk to your GP in confidence or look up your local branch of the Samaritans. You don’t have to suffer alone.

Do you have any questions about any of the above? I am always willing to offer support and information.

Have you ever had to and how would you challenge a friend or family member about these myths?