International Men’s Day—it’s time to talk
Today (Thursday, 19th November), is International Men’s Day, a day when we celebrate the positive value men bring to the world and raise awareness of men’s well-being.
Being a human being can have its challenging moments even in the best of times. But in this year, one of uncertainty and isolation, caused by a worldwide pandemic and possible recession—on top of all the usual political instability (ongoing US elections, Brexit, to name just a couple)—for many of us, it has proven even harder.
Unfortunately, the male human physiology, upbringing, and longstanding cultural stigmas can make dealing with exactly these challenging times even harder. Some super scary data points include:
- The suicide rate in men is 3 times higher than women (and in the UK at least at its highest rate in 2 decades).
- Men with mental illness are less likely to have received help and treatment in the past year than women.
- According to research by the Priory Group in 2016, 77% of men polled said they had suffered from anxiety/stress/depression, however, 40% of the same men said it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to seek help.
I have to say, on a purely personal level, this past year has seen way more mental health issues surface in men (and women) in my extended social circle than ever before. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing—some of it is the result of some great, honest, and open conversations between friends enabling individuals to reach out and get help and support they never would have before, but that has and will continue to make a difference in their lives.
Unfortunately, for some, their ability/comfort/willingness (the reasons are many) to reach out and get support has come very late in the process, resulting in them having already suffered significant mental health breakdowns and in a couple of tragic circumstances the issues have only come to light after the individual had taken their own life.
So what should we do?
As the safety briefing on airplanes (remember those!) says:
“put on your own mask first before assisting others”
Firstly, pay attention and look after your own mental health
- Learn to recognise the signs of stress in yourself—rarely does stress come in a ‘big bang’. More likely it creeps up on us, until one day that prolonged stress has turned into distress.
- Connect with others — it is good for you and good for them.
- Keep active — can boost your mood, help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better.
- Eat well — Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well.
- Try to get plentiful sleep— if you are struggling, the sleep hygiene guidelines may help.
- If you don’t already have them, get some mental wellbeing tools in your toolkit to help reduce anxiety and stress when you need to—mindfulness, meditation, creative hobbies, breathing techniques, listening to music, relaxation exercises, are all good options.
- Ask for help — None of us are superhuman, we all get tired or overwhelmed from time to time. Don’t struggle alone, a bit of support can make a big difference. Remember it may be you asking in this instance but by asking you have opened the door to that person doing the same to you when they need it.
Secondly, if you are able, reach out to others
Most of us are not mental health professionals and so are probably thinking a) Owww this is out of my comfort zone, b) what could I even do/say that would help, and c) but if I do something couldn’t it go really wrong and make things worse?
Research shows that a friend or colleague reaching out with good intentions almost invariably makes people feel better (even if the person says nothing much, the fact that you asked shows them someone else cares), especially if you consider these guidelines:
- Take a minute to check in on people. Not just those you know well and who you think maybe struggling, but also perhaps those who you haven’t connected with in a while and those that always appear to be coping on the surface, but perhaps underneath are feeling alone, isolated and like they are the only person feeling that way.
- Set an example by being open, vulnerable, and honest in your interactions. By hoping someone will open up/share with you, you are assuming trust and trust is a shared thing, not a one-way street.
- Get ready to simply listen. We are often encouraged to ‘see a problem, fix a problem’, especially in a work environment, but often with issues that impact our mental well being there is not some magic quick fix. Sometimes the first phase of dealing with an issue is to get it out and there. Remember you can always ask if they would like advice/help if you think you have some to give, but if the answer is ‘no’, just let them talk, that might be all the help they need.
- Be alongside. I love the Men’s Sheds organisation’s slogan of “Shoulder To Shoulder”, a shortened version of “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”. Women, when they talk, tend to be more face-to-face to look directly at each other, men on the other hand generally favour the side-by-side approach. In a ‘normal’ world this would mean suggesting doing an activity together such as walking, bowling, or golfing and then asking and talking during it. In a locked down world of zoom communications, it is slightly harder to avoid that “stare in the face” conversation. But maybe consider if there is a task you can or already do together, you may be reviewing code together, brainstorming a work problem, playing an online game (my husband and his father play an online game of cribbage together while simultaneously talking so the video is rarely the window in focus on their device), or maybe watching a match ‘together’ so you are not staring each other in the eye.
- Don’t force them to talk about how they feel. Just let them know you are there if they ever need you, ensuring they know this on a regular basis helps them know you care, and potentially, to reach out if they are ready and do need it.
- If you do start to feel out of your depth, keep listening and gently point them at further professional resources where they can get help (such as those below).
It starts with us: being aware and taking care of our own mental health, which very much includes reaching out to others for help and support even if things are not “really bad” and offering the same kindness to others.
Silence is not golden; talking, asking, noticing, and importantly listening could just be the difference you make to your or someone’s mental well-being today.