Attitudes to mental health and specifically men’s mental health in the community have positively shifted in the last decade or so. We are seeing more people discussing it, more male celebrities and much-loved sporting personalities admitting publicly to suffering from mental health issues.
In the past year I have noticed many more men coming into my private practice for help. It has been quite a large shift from previous years where I have had a predominantly female client base. This pleases me. It pleases me because more men are reaching out for help for issues that all of us experience at some point.
However, I do believe that we still have a long way to go. There are still many men suffering in silence and not reaching out for the help they need. One in two Australian men have had mental health problems at some point in their life. Three out of four deaths by suicide are men. The physical health of men is still poorer than that of women and men use health services (in particular mental health services) less often than women. Don’t even get me started on men from rural and remote areas.
Men are taking a bit hit when it comes to managing (or not managing rather) their stress, anxiety and depression. There are too many blokes out there suffering in silence.
The way men deal with their symptoms and their attitude to help seeking is quite different to women. When they feel physically, mentally or emotionally unwell, they sit and stew on it for a while before doing anything about it. A considerable amount of time (often years) can go by before a guy admits to struggling. I know too many men who use unhelpful coping methods such as drinking too much, taking drugs, working excessively or isolating themselves from their mates and loved ones to mask the pain they are experiencing. This further exacerbates their problems.
I see men who work long hours sitting in an office all day who get home late, neglecting exercise or any time for themselves to unwind. Men in high pressured jobs who are craving a work-life balance but don’t know how that could be possible. Men who have high paying jobs right now who intuitively know that on any day their job could be taken from them.
I see family men who say to themselves “How do I balance looking after my family, workload and myself without stuffing up somewhere?” And then the fear of making a mistake stopping them from moving in any direction. Men that get angry, at seemingly everything. Men that are eating food that is crap because it is ‘easy.’ Men that drink heavily to unwind after a stressful day, then fall asleep in front of the TV neglecting their partners who have gone to sleep hours before. Men that are overweight and can hardly recognize themselves anymore. Men that feel anxious a lot and everything seems too much to handle. Men whose sleep patterns are out of whack and are using sleeping tablets to get through the night (a little more than the doctor prescribed). Men that have lost the young energetic guy they once were. The guy that hung out with his mates, laughed a lot and got up to crazy stuff.
These are the types of men I am seeing, and it is steadily increasing. Which is good. Because us psychologists can help guys out of this rut. Their lives don’t have to be this way.
In general, men put off getting help because they think they are supposed to be strong, independent, and be able to take control of situations themselves. Men are often reluctant to seek medical advice in order to not be labelled as weak.
A man cannot be strong and tough if their body has shut down because they haven’t looked after it. A man cannot be a great provider if they’re using coping methods such as gambling, drugs and alcohol. You cannot be a powerful leader if you are steering people in the wrong direction.
By taking control of our health whether it be physically or psychologically is powerful. It is life changing. By doing so, men are going to be a better partner, son, husband, lover, boyfriend, father and worker. If they can learn how to manage their symptoms they are going to be a better version of themselves.
So basically keeping your health issues to yourselves, is not working for you men, on so many levels.
So I thought what a fitting time (being a New Year and all), that I could ask men to start being a bit braver in their lives. I am thinking about a New Years Resolution that perhaps sees them reaching out for help if they are not feeling themselves and getting the appropriate help.
Most of us at some point experience some issues with not coping with life and the sooner you get help, the sooner you will find yourself again.