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In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, as many cases go undiagnosed this figure may not really represent what is happening.
Statistics from the ONS and the Health and Social Care Information Centre may give an indication of men’s mental health in the UK:
- In the Government’s national well-being survey men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women – with those aged 45 to 59 reporting the lowest levels of life satisfaction.
- Over three quarters of people who kill themselves are men.
- The suicide rate was highest in middle-aged men (40- to 44-year-old age groups).
- Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to 3.3% of women).
- Men are more likely to use (and die from) illegal drugs.
- Men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and community.
- Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women.
In their 2018 report, the World Health Organisation emphasise that cultural stigma surrounding mental health is one of the chief obstacles to people admitting that they are struggling and seeking help, and this stigmatisation is particularly pronounced in men.
Basic Facts About Depression, Anxiety and How it can Affect Men
Men don’t always show the signs we often associate with depression, like sadness and hopelessness, so men may fail to recognise or act on the warning signs.
Every now and again everyone feels “down”, life events can have a depressing effect on you, but this feeling is often short-lived and does not dominate your life. It is when it starts to affect every area of your life and you begin to find yourself stuck and unable to lift yourself out of it that you need to seek help.
You may notice some of the following:
- Feeling unhappy, down, depressed. The feeling won’t go away and can be worse at a particular time of day, often first thing in the morning.
- You can’t enjoy anything.
- Losing interest in seeing people and you lose touch with friends.
- You can’t concentrate properly.
- Feeling guilty about things that have nothing to do with you.
- Becoming pessimistic; the glass is half empty.
- Starting to feel hopeless, and perhaps even suicidal.
- You can’t get to sleep.
- You wake early in the morning and/or throughout the night.
- You lose interest in food and lose weight or you “comfort eat” more and put on weight.
- Making mistakes at work or just can’t focus.
- You appear unusually quiet and withdrawn.
- Worrying about things more than usual.
- You are more irritable than usual.
- Complaining about vague physical problems.
- You stop looking after yourself and/or your home properly.
Some men also feel very anxious when they become depressed. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as dry mouth, sweating, shakiness, palpitations, breathlessness, stomach churning and diarrhoea.
Whilst both men and women may suffer depression, the symptoms can differ. Men often display:
- Sudden anger.
- Increased loss of control.
- Greater risk-taking.
If and when men start to feel symptoms of depression they may rely on unwise, unsustainable self-management/coping strategies that are damaging not only to themselves but also to those around them, such as using drugs or alcohol to cope with their depression rather than talking about it.
They may use escapist behaviour too, such as throwing themselves into their work, with some men being particularly competitive, concerned with status and success, so they may feel that they have to deal with their problems themselves.
Some Reasons Preventing Men from Discussing their Mental Health Problems
In a survey carried out by the Priory Group they asked 1,000 men about the reasons they don’t talk about their mental health, and the respondents stated the following:
- 40% “I’ve learnt to deal with it”.
- 36% “I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone”.
- 29% “I’m too embarrassed”.
- 20% “There’s negative stigma around this type of thing”.
- 17% “I don’t want to admit I need support”.
- 16% “I don’t want to appear weak”.
- 14% “I have no one to talk to”.
When probed further the results showed that 66% would share their feelings with their partner above anyone else. But almost one quarter (22%) of respondents said they would not feel comfortable even speaking to a GP or any other professional; the main reason being that they worry it will waste their GP’s time.
This is a notion that needs to be dispelled and men need to be made aware that GPs spend at least a third of their time dealing with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression so view these matters as genuine medical reasons to seek medical advice and care.
Traditional gender roles also play a part in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health issues. Gender stereotypes about women – the perception that they should behave in or look a certain way, for example – have been recognised as being damaging to them. But men can also be damaged by stereotypes and expectations.
The idea that they should always be in control, be “the man of the house”, the provider, be strong – all apparently positive attributes – may make it more difficult for men to talk about what they might perceive as a weakness. This also makes it difficult for them to admit to anyone that they need help. The Priory survey highlighted that for 40% of men, it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to seek professional help.
This is why the recent public disclosures about their own struggles with mental health by celebrities such as Stormzy, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jon Hamm and, most famously, Prince Harry, have helped to raise the profile of an issue that doesn’t care who you are, what you do for a living or how much money you have.
These disclosures may help other men to realise that talking about how they feel is not a sign of weakness nor does it carry a stigma or make you a “lesser man”.
Below are some of the comments these celebrities have made about their mental health.
Stormzy, talking about his mental health issues, said in an interview with Channel 4 News “If there’s anyone out there going through it [depression], I think for them to see that I went through it would help. Because for a long time I used to think that soldiers don’t go through that. You know? Like, strong people in life, the bravest, the most courageous people, they don’t go through that, they just get on with it. Like any person I admire or look up to hasn’t felt like this. They just pick themselves up, you know what I mean and that’s not the case… So for me it was like this is what I’ve dealt with… I felt it’s important for me to let people know that.”
Dwayne Johnson tweeted “We all go thru the sludge, and depression never discriminates. Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone.”
Jon Hamm has talked about how therapy helped him through depression. “Medical attention is medical attention whether it’s for your elbow or your teeth or for your brain,” he told InStyle magazine.
Prince Harry spoke to The Telegraph. “The experience that I have is that once you start talking about it, you suddenly realize that actually, you’re part of quite a big club.”
How You Can Help Yourself
Making simple changes such as talking about your feelings, keeping active and eating well can help you feel better. If you’ve had an upset in your life, don’t bottle things up, tell someone how you feel about it, you’ll feel better afterwards “getting it off your chest”.
Although alcohol may make you feel better for a couple of hours, it will make you more depressed in the long run, so avoid it when you feel down; the same goes for drugs. Try instead to take some exercise, even if it’s only a walk, it helps to take your mind off your thoughts.
Take a break from your normal routine, do something you really enjoy or relax and lose yourself in a good book or film especially if you are having problems sleeping.
If you are finding it difficult to help yourself then you may find talking with other men in a similar situation can help, such as:
Talk to your GP. Mental health is as important as physical health; you will find that speaking to your GP can make a big difference to your life and get you the help and support you need. Remind yourself that depression is a result of chemical changes in the brain and/or as the result of living in an unpredictable, demanding and stressful world and not the result of any failure or weakness on your part.
If you’re in distress and need immediate help or are feeling like ending your life, don’t hesitate to call 999. There are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress.
Depression can’t be willed away. It’s a serious medical condition that affects your daily life so take the first step towards talking openly about your mental health; suffering in silence isn’t a safe or healthy option.
Some Practical Things That May Help
Sleep deprivation is widespread amongst men who are depressed. It then becomes a vicious circle with the lack of sleep leading to being stressed, feeling tired, unable to think or concentrate, which in turn makes you feel more depressed.
If you have problems getting to sleep, the more you think about needing to get to sleep the more stressed you will get and you will be unable to sleep. Try doing something relaxing such as reading, listening to soothing music or a relaxing bath before bed. Relaxation techniques to lower your heart rate will also help.
Avoid caffeine a couple of hours before bedtime as it is a stimulant and the effects can last long after ingestion.
If you keep waking through the night try avoiding any drinks close to bedtime, but make sure to drink water when you get up as you will be dehydrated.
Stress is something everyone has to deal with; however, it is how you deal with it that makes the difference. Start by noticing how your body reacts when you are stressed. Do you hunch up your shoulders? Does your stomach churn? Do you get irritable? If you begin to notice your stress reactions you can start to take action to avoid the stressful situations or at least limit your exposure to them.
Don’t try to take on more than you can cope with. Say no to people, and remember it is their requests you are refusing not them. Exercise, even short walks, can help relax muscles and regulate your breathing and heart rate which in turn will improve your mood and de-stress you.
Although it may be tempting to isolate yourself when you are feeling down, it is in fact the worst thing you can do. Even brief interactions with friends and family keep you connected, and whilst you may not enjoy the event as much as you used to, focusing on being with others can be uplifting and you may have fun. Start with people you know well and places you feel comfortable in. If you can’t meet up in person try telephoning, video calling or texting on a regular basis.
How to Help the Men You Know
The first step is obvious and simple, ask him how he is feeling, especially if he has experienced a recent event that could trigger depression such as bereavement, relationship break-up, job loss or even “empty nest syndrome” (yes, men also feel the loss when their children leave home, sometimes more so than women).
- Tell him you have noticed he seems tired or stressed, but don’t jump to diagnosing that he might be depressed.
- Don’t criticise if he is drinking more, try suggesting alternative activities that don’t involve alcohol.
- Offer your support, listen, and be patient. Don’t be judgemental or dismiss his feelings – support him to open up by being receptive.
- Reassure him that you are available whenever he wants to talk.
- Let him know that it is quite common for men to have these feelings – it’s not a weakness.
- Don’t take things personally if his mood is techy, short-tempered or he can’t be bothered – be patient.
- Include him in social events but don’t take it personally if he refuses – keep trying.
- Point him towards websites such as Men’s Health Forum, Heads Up Guys or The Calm Zone so he can read about men’s mental health and the advice available.
- Don’t be tempted to become his therapist – encourage him to seek professional advice.
- If he is in distress and/or you fear he may be considering harming himself, do not hesitate to call for help.