Men’s Minds Matter
The Value in Men Talking
“How are you?” is probably one of the most frequently asked questions we hear. It can be met with a meaningful reply, but more often than not it is responded to with “I’m okay”.
The truth for a lot of men though, is that they are not.
The UK is currently gripped by a mental health crisis, with millions of people impacted by illness each year, one in four according to the NHS. The statistics for men in the UK are quite disturbing with mental health related suicide being the single biggest killer of men under the age of 50. According to a UK-based charity campaign, ‘Time to Change’, in 2015, a staggering 75% of all suicides in the UK were men. Recent figures released by The Office of National Statistics show there is a significant gender gap in British suicide, with men more than three times as likely to successfully commit suicide than women. Troublingly, the number of men currently in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is also three times that of women.
“75% of all UK suicides are men”
These statistics paint a very clear picture: women seek help for mental and emotional health issues, while men find other, less healthy ways of coping and are self-medicating. Men are not getting the help they need.
The Stigma of Talking
In my consulting room I frequently hear men saying the same things when struggling to voice their emotional difficulties:
“Things like that don’t happen to people like me.”
“What do I have to be depressed about?”
Given the stigma that surrounds them, mental health issues can be hard to talk about. For some men, admitting to mental illness or emotional difficulty can be seen as a sign of failure or weakness. My male clients frequently tell me that there is no greater embarrassment for a ‘real man’ than to be perceived as emasculated, opening up about their feelings is the biggest social taboo. Growing up, boys are told to be ‘strong’ and ‘tough’ and that ‘big boys don’t cry’. As adults, ‘manning-up’ is expected whatever the cost. The connotations behind these phrases are terrible; it places the idea of masculinity in an unrealistic, idealised state.
Men often tell me that they have very few people they can talk to openly, certainly not their male friends. When difficulties start to become overwhelming these men find they are just not equipped to deal with it themselves. It is not surprising then, that with these limitations to an emotional world men can feel safer expressing anger rather than pain, that communication problems frequently exist in intimate relationships, that some men work long hours to avoid the issues at home, and that emotional vulnerability is often avoided. There is no evidence to suggest that depression or emotional difficulties actually hit men harder than women but what is evident is that unlike women, men do not talk about their problems and often their suffering or depression remains locked away and hidden.
While many men continue to live under a code of masculinity that engenders emotional restriction and contributes to the UK’s alarming rates of male suicide, there is evidence that men’s attitudes towards seeking help are changing. Men are starting therapy. Some arrive without understanding what is causing them distress, whereas others are just desperate to talk about their issues with someone who will listen non-judgementally and help them.
Men can have a variety of problems that they want to explore in therapy, but in my consulting room certain issues come up time and again.
- Anger issues and management
- Commitment issues, infidelity or difficulties with intimacy
- Paranoia or jealousy
- Porn addiction
- Relationship difficulties
- Sexuality concerns (transgender, gay or bisexual feelings)
- Sexual problems, erectile dysfunction, or loss of libido
- Substance and alcohol abuse
- Work and career stresses
Mental healthcare is higher up the political agenda than ever before, especially for men, yet the stigma and taboo is still huge. When we all accept the “I’m okay” or “I’m fine” as positive responses we are complicit in silencing the voices of men in need and in perpetuating archaic notions of masculinity.
What hope does that then leave for future generations of men? The world does not need more ‘tough guys’, it needs men supported in their fight to combat the shame associated with mental health issues, to be encouraged to talk more openly about their emotions and problems, and to answer the question “How are you?” with honesty.
Comments are closed