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It’s Time to Talk – How to get men talking about mental health problems?

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Men’s Health Week 2020

by Laura Lohk

One in six people are affected by mental health problems, yet the stigma that comes with the words ‘mental health’ hasn’t seemed to change that much.

What I hear from my clients a lot is that their family, friends and people they socialise with do not understand what ‘mental health’ means. That can leave people who struggle, feeling isolated and withdrawn and it can have a severe impact on their well-being.

During Men’s Health Week 15th – 21st June, we want to raise awareness about men’s mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.

So, how can one be more open about their mental health problems?

Within my private practice I see many clients, including some from the NHS.  I think there are two key points that need to be addressed so that those with mental health issues can open up about their struggles.

  1. Awareness as to what constitutes mental health issues
  2. Normalising the subject so that people, especially men, feel more comfortable talking about their feelings.

While the subject of mental health has been topical for quite some time, there are still a lot of misconceptions around the issue. Mental health doesn’t only mean severe problems, such as personality disorders.  Mental health covers issues such as stress and anxiety, which 1 in 6 people experience. The likelihood therefore, is that people you see today struggle with it. These are people who run their household, go to work, have hobbies and walk their dogs. They are everyday people, like you and me.

One of the biggest concerns I have as a therapist is seeing so few men seeking help. We still seem to live in a society where a man’s job is to go to work and feed their family, to be this ‘macho man’, not vulnerable or show their feelings. We are emotional creatures and we need to express ourselves. If we don’t, it can often surface through resentment, anger and in worse cases, withdrawal, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts.

The statistics show that women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem so it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that women are more susceptible to it.

The problem is not that men don’t struggle with mental health problems. The problem is, in my opinion, that men don’t seek help because of the stigma attached to expressing their feelings and mental health. It is therefore crucial that WE begin to normalise men talking about feelings and encourage them to let their guard down and take time to talk.

We need to shift our focus from living in a cave as hunter-gatherers where men had a particular part in the herd. We need to provide men with more space to safely express their feelings and struggles without judgement.  We need to recognise that men have been put under enormous pressure to be a ‘certain way’ for centuries. According to statistics, this accounts for 78% of suicides.

It is our responsibility to take a step back from our busy lives, notice and recognise the struggles that could be happening to our loved ones and encourage them to take time to talk.