When I began writing this piece, it was difficult to fully piece together what the picture of men’s mental health looks like from a man’s perspective, not because I’m a woman, but because so few are reluctant to speak out. In this case, it makes this piece all the more worthwhile.
Unfortunately, around one in eight men in England are currently living with a mental health issue and with suicide being the largest cause of death for men under 35, it only highlights the scale of this problem. So why are so many people reluctant to talk about it? Maybe it is because so many men may be reluctant to seek support, there are thousands of men suffering in silence due to the stigma surrounding this taboo subject.
Sadly many are afraid to speak openly about their mental health even with those closest to them, and whilst this topic is not a new issue, people are still shying away from it, so isn’t it time we start talking openly about men’s mental health?
Having recently seen the impact this has upon high profile suicides such as Chester Bennington and Keith Flint, and personally experiencing loss of a loved one due to depression, we need to get over this hurdle of “men don’t or shouldn’t cry” or the typical phrase “grow a pair” or my personal favourite, “man up”. With such positive undertones of support, is it any wonder that men feel that they can’t speak up when they need the support at times when it matters the most. Robert Webb, in his book “How Not To Be a Boy” summarises this toxic stigma perfectly; Don’t Cry; Love Sport; Play Rough; Drink Beer; Don’t Talk About Feelings. It’s absurd that just like women, men are subjected to increasing expectations which are thrust upon throughout their lives.
There are so many words I came across when researching this subject, but it was relating to how to talk openly about your problems, which in itself is very important and positive, that we can all agree on, but I found that there was a distinct lack of fully understanding the issues and provision of solutions to effectively manage them. It’s important to note that there is no quick resolution to these issues, mental health problems take all sorts of forms and are so complex that often they are unique to that person, so there is not a one size fits all solution. It will take a lot of time and dedication to building trust to start losing that stigma associated with this subject so from a business or organisation perspective, we must equip ourselves and our managers to actively demonstrate support and letting those conversations happen, simply saying “open up” isn’t going to make men queue up at the door of the HR office/their managers office. A genuine safe space culture needs to be created so that men can trust their employers with feelings they have kept well hidden when they feel ready to do so of course.
In most cases, outsiders only become aware of these secrets when it all becomes too much or when things boil over or they flip their lid as some put it. There is a need to get men talking much sooner before the problem escalates and it becomes overbearing. How do we get men talking about something that they feel sounds stupid even to themselves? If you have suffered from depression, both male and female, how many times do we justify our feelings with “pull yourself together” knowing full well that those feelings are still there? Whilst it seems perfectly acceptable that women can be open about their feelings, men, on the other hand, are masters of masking their mental health issues, many don’t actually understand these feelings until they experience it themselves.
Whilst this subject is a gender issue, the scale of the problem only demonstrates that a biased expectation of what a man should be like actually still exists, in 2019 (shaking my head at the computer screen). So lets actually do something about it and start tackling the taboo subject by proactively supporting and enabling cultures of mental health within our workspaces, taking time to educate people from a young age about how to express their feelings without fear of judgement and most importantly, just listen.
This post is dedicated to those who are suffering in silence or are uncomfortable with speaking out. Please know that you are not alone, it is not stupid to say those feelings aloud, you are not a burden, you are worth so much more and loved more than you realise.
If you or someone you know needs some support but not sure where to turn, here are a number of resources available for you contact:
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill
Call 0800 470 80 90
Thank you to everyone who discussed this subject with me over Twitter, if this post helps just one person start a conversation, then it has been worth every moment writing it.