The reason we must be talking about men’s mental health
An invisible illness
Is it possible to be unwell without having a scratch on your body? Can you be sick if none of your bones are broken and your heart is still beating as it should? If you’re sneezing or wheezing, it’s easy to tell that you’re not at the peak of your health.
But what if the outward symptoms are not so clear? What if the health issues you are experiencing have symptoms that others can not easily see?
Mental health issues are a form of ill health that is often out of sight. It is also a form of illness that affects over a third of men in the UK. And 40% of those men will never talk to anyone else about it. So people can not see it and almost half of men experiencing it won’t talk about it. Inevitably, a large number of men are suffering in silence.
Why are men not opening up?
But why is talking about mental health as a man not more common? In a survey conducted by The Priory, a number of reasons were given. The most common reason was that men stated that they had learnt to deal with their condition.
This reason perhaps seems fairly reasonable on the surface. But why should men have to learn to deal with their mental health struggles in silence and on their own? Surely their journey would have been made easier if they’d felt able to talk about it and explore it with others, whether that be with experts, friends or family members.
And what will happen to these men if they find they can not continue to deal with these struggles in the future? Will they finally turn to others?
Male mental health stigma
The other reasons men gave for not talking about their mental health struggles highlight the issues faced. Over a third of men said that they didn’t wish to be a burden to anyone. While around 30% said they would be too embarrassed to talk.
The other most common reasons include: the belief that there was a negative stigma around mental health, men not wanting to admit they needed support, and men not wanting to appear weak. It is pretty clear to see the implications behind these responses.
There is obviously a male mental health stigma. Suffering is seen as a sign of weakness, something to be embarrassed about. Men so often derive their sense of value and self-esteem from being independent and self-sufficient. Being a burden to others risks eroding the confidence and self-worth that the majority of men desperately seek.
Talking about mental health as a man
What is ironic, however, is that men who experience mental health struggles often become a greater burden when they do not acknowledge their issues. Ways of masking mental health struggles include drinking excessively, such as is seen with Mike Harris and Darren Smith, guests on Stories of Men: Beneath the Surface podcast, who both found themselves consuming large quantities of alcohol while in the midst of experiencing burn-out at work.
Not talking about mental health as a man can also lead to intense outbursts of temper or a tendency to detach and withdraw from family and friends. Kenny Armour’s story provides an example of the latter response when he discusses being unable to experience joy while interacting with his young children.
Why men need to speak out
Typically, when we refuse to talk about mental health as a man, we provide a breeding ground for worsening symptoms and even worse struggles to come. To put it bluntly, the desire not to be a burden can make us more burdensome; the desire to not appear weak can make us more vulnerable; the desire to not want to admit that we need support often makes the need for that support even greater.
Trying to avoid talking about mental health as a man and attempting to resolve our issues in silence is, therefore, clearly a risky strategy.
Part of the reason for this is the complexity that surrounds the issue. Mental health issues are often cause by a range of factors including the biological, the social, and the environmental. They can stem from problems at work or from unresolved issues emerging from childhood.
They can come from worries about our finances or about our physical health. In many cases, the trigger for our mental health issues will not be completely clear to us, and, without being able to identify the trigger, it is virtually impossible to find a resolution to the issue.
The benefits of opening up
Then there is the fact that to deal with a problem you first have to acknowledge that you have one. Talking about mental health as a man is the best way to finally front up to the reality of our situation.
Both Mike Harris and Darren Smith talk about their honest feelings with us. They’d finally been able to talk about their mental health problems. Darren Smith was even able to get a diagnosis for his issues. It w2as something he would never have been able to discover without first having the courage to talk and seek help.
Talking about mental health as a man is the most important step to beginning to take control. So let’s be brave and acknowledge that it is OK to talk. No man wants to be a burden, no man wants to be weak, no man wants to feel as if he can no longer take care of himself. All of these reasons are exactly why men must speak out when they know something is not right.
By doing so, we are taking fundamental steps to save ourselves and those we love from having to experience greater pain and possible heartbreak in the months and years to come. We are also giving ourselves the space and support we deserve to help us become healthier, happier men.
And, finally, through being able to be honest about our own struggles. We might just inspire other men who are going through the exact same experience to open up about theirs. Far from being a burden, we might just end up being a lifesaver.