Mike Langroudi looks at the hidden mental health issues faced by men, and how the women in their lives can help support them through tough times
In England, one in eight men suffer from at least one common mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, yet statistics show that they are still suffering in silence.
Men are less likely to access therapy than women, and devastatingly, suicide kills more men between the ages of 40-49 in the UK than any other illness or disease. Men’s mental health needs to be spoken about more, that’s for sure.
Why are men less likely to ask for help?
When you think about society and the way men are portrayed, it becomes clear why reaching out for help seems impossible. The traditional stereotype suggests men should be strong, resilient superheroes capable of taking on all challenges and adversities thrown their way. They are meant to be dependable and show no signs of weakness.
The stigma against men opening up about mental health is a sad reality. Men are raised to bottle everything up and hope that the dark cloud hovering over their heads will pass on its own. ‘Boys don’t cry’ and ‘man up’ are two common phrases that are used as soon as a man shows the slightest sign of ‘weakness’ or emotional duress.
This begins at school and usually carries on throughout life, resulting in men embodying this notion that under no circumstances can they ask for help – because they are meant to have it all together at all times for their families and loved ones.
Sadly, this often results in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug misuse. In fact, men are nearly three times more likely than women to become substance dependent because it’s easier to numb the internal struggle than ask for help.
How to tell if a man in your life is struggling
Men can be very private and it isn’t always easy to tell when they are going through something, and symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are a few behavioural changes that might signify that something is wrong:
- Increased intake of alcohol
- Irritability, anger and hyper-vigilance (being on edge)
- A major change in appetite
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Struggling to keep up with work or family responsibilities
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Sleeping too much or too little
- A sense of detachment and dissociation
- Difficulty focusing and being easily distracted
Generally speaking, men aren’t as vocal as women when it comes to matters of the mind, so it’s important to be aware of any behavioural changes, no matter how subtle or insignificant they may seem.
How can you offer support?
Men have been conditioned to put on a brave face when dealing with difficulties out of fear of being seen as weak or as less of a man. Because of this, if you suspect that a man in your life is struggling, it’s important to approach the matter delicately and with patience.
By pushing too hard or prying too much you risk shutting him off entirely. Remember, men are by nature very proud. Don’t over-analyse his behaviour or throw questions or solutions at him. This will only exacerbate the feelings of guilt and shame.
If you’re concerned, the best thing you can do is express that concern in a calm, supportive manner and reassure him that you will be there for him when he’s ready to talk. Show him you have his back no matter what. By doing this, you are showing him that you respect his dignity and that when he is ready, he has someone to talk to.
If he opens up to you it’s vital that you reserve judgement. Remember, society has taught him that vulnerability is a sign of weakness so if you use judgemental language, it’s only going to close him off. Listen to him and let him know that it’s OK to not be OK.
You may not be the right person to help him through this difficult time, and that’s also OK. But by opening up that safe space to share reinforces that he’s not alone, empowering him to seek out professional help if he feels that’s what he needs.
I believe that there is nothing stronger than admitting to your struggle. There is courage in vulnerability and bravery in getting the help you need. Men need to be encouraged to speak up, not ostracised.
We deserve to be given the space and time to feel validated and to be offered the chance to take that first step in getting better, and the women in our lives play a huge role in that, by helping to relieve the pressure and remove the stigma.
Resources for men
A men’s mental health support network which hosts weekend dog walks (you don’t need to own a dog) nationwide, offering a space for men to talk freely about any struggles they’re having.
Provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
Offers safe and confidential spaces across the UK where men can meet regularly to talk and listen to each other.
Provides free group meetings in a safe space, physical or online, for anyone affected by suicide to talk openly.