Men and Mental Health – Let’s Talk (Pt 1/2)

As I write some reflections about “Men and Mental Health”, please note that I have added the caveat of “Let’s Talk”. It’s vitally important that the title is read in its entirety.

Now before you get stuck in to the ‘meaty stuff’ about a really complex subject, I feel that I must add the disclaimer that I’m not coming at this subject from the angle of being an academic exponent in this field.

It’s true that I have studied this subject; men and mental health is very close to my heart, and whilst I have attained a couple of qualifications in the field, I’m no Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Psychotherapist or indeed anything else beginning with “Psych”……

However, I feel that I am well qualified to have an opinion and I will be coming from the angle of being a survivor of a serious mental health issue myself, which almost resulted in me taking my own life back in 1996.

It’s quite ironic that I will be using some alarming statistics which have been provided by the “Campaign Against Living Miserably” or “CALM” because, in truth, they are quite depressing. However, I make no apologies for that!

But I am living proof that there is hope!!

Mental health and the mental well-being of us as men, is critically important, and I can confidently declare that at least 50% of us, probably more, have suffered or currently are suffering right now with some form of mental health issue. It could be depression (like me), anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or whatever other label the professionals will come up with when all is not ‘right’.

22 years ago ‘deep down’ I knew that all was not right within me, but I didn’t think for one minute that I was suffering from some sort of mental health issue.

Please note that I never said, “mental health problem”, because certainly in my case, my “problem” or rather more specifically, “problems” were definitely the product of a ‘mental health issue’.

So, I’m going to ‘hit you’ with some startling statistics;

  • In 2014, 4623 men took their own lives!
  • That’s 12 men every single day!
  • That’s one man every 2 hours!
  • 76% of all UK suicides were men.
    Only 20% of people in the UK know that suicide is the biggest cause of death for a man aged 45.
  • 42% of UK men aged 18 to 45 have considered suicide.
  • 41% of men who have contemplated suicide felt that they couldn’t talk about their feelings.
  • Of those men who contemplated suicide, 32% ‘didn’t want people to worry about them’.

As I said above, these statistics are straight from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and there are of course loads of other statistics available should you choose to explore this further.

However, and please heed my words; if you’re going to stick words like, “Mental Health in Men” and “Male Suicide” in your search engine, PLEASE make sure that you inform a close friend or relative about what you’re doing. You MUST look after your own well-being……. Plus it could freak your partner out if they checked your browsing history. No, seriously, please don’t risk opening up some sort of “Pandora’s Box” and inadvertently expose yourself to some of this stuff.

In acknowledgement of “International Men’s Day” in November 2016, “CALM” completed a “Masculinity Audit”. Check it out for yourself.

They quizzed over a thousand respondents, which included some experts and all that jazz. It highlighted how we men struggle differently to women in issues to do with mental health.

The audit revealed that men are not only less likely than women to open up to friends about being depressed, they’re also more likely to exhibit risk taking behaviour and feel more frustrated at life’s many challenges. Notice that phrase, “more likely to exhibit risk taking behaviour”. It’s crucial to what I’m about to share with you.

The audit showed that barely half the men who admitted to feeling ‘very depressed’ had told anyone about it, compared to 67% of women.

It also highlighted how men, generally speaking, lack the language to talk about their mental health; meaning that even doctors may be failing to spot the key danger signs. And of course, the ultimate ‘danger sign’ is often displayed when it’s far too late. Suicide therefore remains the single biggest killer of British males under the age of 45.

Most of you who know me, will know that my background is in Policing, and over the very last weekend when I was employed by the Leicestershire Police; over the August Bank Holiday weekend of 2015, 4 men in Leicestershire took their own lives.

The youngest was just 17 and the oldest was 50. It breaks my heart fellas. And if it breaks my heart, what’s it doing to God’s!!

The ‘clever bloke’ who instigated the audit; Professor Damien Ridge made a comment which I found startling; “Men do things like self-medicate or become angry or become someone else’s problem. They let it build up then they lash out at themselves or other people”.

That sentence is certainly worth reading again.

34 and a bit years, as a police officer and a member of police staff has shown me, only too often the results of our inability to talk to each other. And I’ve seen that our inability to find the right language results in scores of men who have ‘self medicated’ and their lives have been destroyed by criminality, violence, alcohol reliance, drug abuse, pornography …… the list is endless.

Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why men simply do not talk about how they feel, and those of you who are familiar with the CVM vision will be well-versed in some of our strategies by which we seek to address this.

Women tend to have a history of talking about ‘stuff’ with their girlfriends, family and so on. They open up and talk. Men don’t have that language. They simply all too often don’t have the right environment in which they can share their true feelings. How often have you said to your mate, “Are you ok?”. And I bet his reply was, “I’m alright”, when really his life is in bits.

So, that’s definitely something for us men to seriously think about.

Fellas; you owe it to your mate!

Please look out for part 2 later this week.

If you need to reach out and begin the journey away from the precipice the starting point is to tell someone. Talk to someone you trust, let family or friends know what’s going on for you, they may be able to offer help and support. If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know these free helplines are there to help.

Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone.

If you’re worried about someone, try to get them to talk to you. Ask open-ended questions like: “How do you feel about…?” Don’t worry about having the answers. Just listening to what someone has to say and taking it seriously can be more helpful. See Samaritans’ tips on how to start a difficult conversation.

Image Credit: Alex Iby