Most of us already know that men aren’t great when it comes to talking about emotions, feelings or mental health right? I could give you stats all-day
And if you didn’t know before? That’s OK; you do now.
Now let’s not fall into the trap of making sweeping statements like ‘Men don’t talk about mental health’ because that just isn’t true. I’m a man (last I checked) and I do (a lot); there are many others like me too. We have high-profile figures like Tyson Fury and Stephen Fry who speak openly about their mental health. I also have several mates who will happily sit over a pint and chat about mental health, emotions & feelings.
But as the figures above illustrate, there is still a problem with men speaking about these things, or at least we perceive there is which is maybe part of the problem.
The default reason that people tend to go for this is the whole toxic man-up culture which is absolutely a thing and is something I’ll be speaking about later in this post, but is that really it? Is it just that one reason or is there more to it?
Let’s break down the key reasons men don’t speak about their mental health
As a bloke living with a mental health condition (PTSD, in case you’re wondering) I feel this one. There’s this belief that men need to have their shit together and not let anything slow them down. It’s the same reason that men take fewer sick days off than women. Its nothing to do with certain sex experiencing an illness more than the other; it’s this expectation of having to keep it together.
But here’s the thing, we’re not machines; we can’t keep running on an empty tank, and at some point, we will get ill (mentally or physically) like anyone else and by trying to push through that, you’re serving nobody, including yourself. If you really had your shit together, you would know when to call time and take a break.
I’m guilty of this idea of only resting when my legs give out from under me. Powering forward no matter what is thrown at me and not worrying about the consequences. On the battlefield, or if the shit is really hitting the fan? Then this has a place but in everyday life? Well.. this mindset very nearly cost me my life.
2. I’m not mentally ill!
You know what? You could be absolutely right, you might not be, but what exactly is mentally ill? Like, where’s the line? The truth is, mental health isn’t just good or bad. Amy Morin, A psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Dont Do says Mental health is a continuum. No one is completely mentally healthy or completely mentally ill, and she’s absolutely right.
The truth is we ALL have mental health and it’s on a sliding scale that is constantly moving depending on what is happening in our lives and our bodies. Some men feel that if they’re struggling with their mental health, it must mean that they’re weak or somehow ‘less than’. If you got had a chest infection, would that mean that you’re weak? If your chest infection became bronchitis, would that make you less than someone else? What about if it developed into pneumonia and you needed professional help? You see where I’m going with this, right? And like our physical health is just like our mental health, they’re both changeable and things can start to go wrong, whether we want them to or not. All it means is that you are human. (Also your mental health and physical health are linked in ways you could never imagine).
I mentioned the sliding scale of our mental health, the thing is, we are not trained to say at which point on that line the diagnosis of a mental health condition. It might even be that there isn’t a diagnosis but it would be helpful to have a chat with a counsellor or therapist to bring us up on that scale a little. That brings me nicely to our next one.
3. Talking doesn’t work!
Ah, this old chestnut. If I had £1 for every time I heard this, I’d probably have about £50. But that’s a new lego car, and Lego is expensive these days! Anyway, many people (not just men, but let’s face it, in my experience, the majority of people who believe this are male) can’t possibly see how just sitting down and talking to someone can make everything better. Or they might have had a crappy experience with therapy or counselling and think it doesn’t work.
Believe it or not, in 2020, there were approximately 211,000 registered therapists in the UK, all with their own approach, style (some of them blending styles), personality and ways of being accessed. So if you had a bad one (unfortunately, they do exist, like with any line of work), then I guarantee that there is someone out there who will work for you. Also, There’s an entire branch of medicine (psychiatry) and science (psychology) dedicated to the idea of the power of talking; why would these exist if it didn’t work?
The truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know, but what I do know is that talking therapies can be INCREDIBLY powerful and helpful in ways that we would never expect but if you don’t try it; how could you know?
4. What’s going on with me is too complicated to fix
Life is a complicated beast. And when things start to go wrong with our mental health, many different things often contribute towards it. But you’re not a car engine; nobody is looking to fix you (and if they say that they are a charlatan). Take the focus off fixing anything and look instead for improvement. When I was in the very pits of my PTSD and depression, I couldn’t see any possibility of me ever getting better because I thought it was too complicated and I was too ‘broken’. I knew that PTSD is a long-term condition and believed that meant there was no hope until I decided to stop focusing on 100% (or being ‘fixed’) and aimed for a 1% improvement in how I was feeling. And then 1% after that and so on.
Pretty quickly, I started to see a noticeable difference and learned that recovery meant ongoing, gradual improvement I found that if I worked WITH the professionals and combined that with small, manageable work on myself, it felt less daunting and things improved drastically.
Nobody is ever beyond help, there is no such thing.
5. I don’t walk to be a burden
Trust me; you’re not. I get that you feel like everyone has their own shit to juggle. It’s part of the reason why diagnoses of depression went down during the COVID pandemic but reported symptoms of depression went up. People don’t want to burden their doctor, but that’s literally what they’re there for. Approximately 85% of GP consultations have some kind of mental health component to them, that’s literally their job! I promise you that any decent doctor would far you prefer to take up some of their time talking about your mental health than to not and just sit and stew in a shitty pit of emotional turmoil.
The same goes for friends & family; you wouldn’t believe just how many people suddenly come out of the woodwork and say, “yeah me too”, once you open up about your mental health. In a Mens Health survey of more than 15,000 men, 34% said they’d be more comfortable addressing a topic such as depression if a friend talked about his own mental well-being first, so you are actually unburdening yourself and others by opening up.
On several occasions, I’ve stood in rooms full of blokes and asked them “If you were in work and your mate told you they were really struggling and having dark thoughts, would they take the piss or would they support and listen? Not a single person said they wouldn’t listen, and yet we assume they won’t. We often jump to the worst-case scenario when the reality is almost always completely different.
6. I don’t want to be judged
This often comes about because our brains can be a massive dick sometimes and make us do/say/think some things that we wouldn’t want to talk about. I thought about driving my car into bridges & lamp posts. I thought about beating the shit out of my old sergeant on many occasions. Hell, when I became a dad I thought about yeeting my baby boy out the window when he wouldn’t stop crying. Just to clarify, I love my little boy to bits and would never hurt him; but these kinds of thoughts are called ‘Intrusive thoughts’ and are incredibly common. It’s like our brain suggests the most outrageous, worst-case scenario thing we could do despite us finding the idea of these things ridiculous (although my sergeant would have deserved it on some occasions). So, it’s easy to see why people might fear being judged, but these thoughts are completely normal.
Also, the sheer nature of poor mental health means that we have thoughts and feeling that we’re not proud of and we start to believe that we’re awful people, which makes us worry about what people will say or think.
Can people judge? Of course, it happens, but it’s much rarer than what we tell ourselves, and as I said above, the worst-case scenario is almost never the reality.
By confiding in someone who is understanding of mental health, there’s a much less chance of them judging you, have a think about friends, family or people in work and try to identify someone who might have spoken about this stuff before. Or speak to someone like The Samaritans, who are 100% confidential and won’t ever judge anyone on what they say.
7. It means Im weak
NO. IT. DOESN’T. Like I said before, we all have mental health, and at some point, we will all find ourselves slipping down that scale a bit whether that means a mental health condition or not. Would you think someone else was weak for suffering from depression or anxiety or trauma? No? Then why think that of yourself?
It’s weaker to not say anything than it is to take the big step to open up and ask for some help.
The truth is, we have an uphill struggle when it comes to tackling the issue of men’s mental health and yes the stigma has A LOT to answer for but also understand what mental health is, what can cause us to struggle with our mental health and what the options for support are.
Men suffer from depression,
Men suffer from anxiety,
Men suffer from eating disorders
Men suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder
Men suffer from trauma-related conditions like PTSD (and not caused by just military or public services)
Men are affected by what happens in their life
We all have a responsibility to ourselves to look after our own health & wellbeing both physical and mental. And in the same way that we maintain our physical health with nutrition, water and exercise, we need to maintain our mental health with self-care, self-awareness and turning to others for support when we need it because nobody is a one-man army.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did and think you can tackle this on your own, because you’re not meant tot tackle it alone and there are people and things out there who can help but nothing will change unless we do something about it.