November was Men's Health Month - in which thousands of men opted to grow a moustache to help fundraise and raise awareness for men's mental health (as well as other men's health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer).
But as the men's mental health infographics fade away from our Instagram feeds for another year, it's important to keep the conversation going. In this blog post, we speak to Three Little Birds counsellor, Stuart McAdam to get his take on men's mental health. But first, here are the facts.
Men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women
Men are nearly 3 times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than women
87% of rough sleepers are men
Men are less likely to seek help for persistent low mood or excessive worrying than women because they feel embarrassed, or are afraid of being told they have a mental illness
Only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men
This section is an abridged and edited version of an interview conducted by Maisie Southon for a short film about Men's Mental Health.
Maisie: Hi! Could you please start off by telling us a bit about you and what you do?
Stuart: My name's Stuart McAdam and I'm a counsellor with Three Little Birds, and some other agencies as well, as a volunteer. I'm in private practice at the minute, but I also work at Nottingham Trent in another capacity.
Maisie: Why do you think Men's Mental Health Awareness Month is so important?
Stuart: Because men are taught that, well not overtly taught, but they come to get the sense that they shouldn't share their feelings - and this is why you get so many men who don't access services, who don't share their feelings with friends and families. And then the problems get worse, and many men externalise these problems, resulting in aggression, anti-social behaviours, drug abuse. So yeah, I think it's very important because of the societal impact. It needs to be okay for men to gauge their own mental health, and to understand how it's affecting them, how their emotions are affecting them.
I think it’s changing now, and I think younger people are more savvy about mental health… but until recently, it wasn’t a thing, and you didn’t really talk about it, you swept it under the carpet, and these folk would end up in hospital, being marginalised.
Maisie: Why do you think there's such a taboo surrounding men's mental health?
Stuart: I think it's conditioning, I think it's role models, films and that. When I was growing up, the man was the lead character - he was the hero, he was the strong one. That would be in books as well, it would end up in all your culture. Art would depict strong, muscly guys, and you know... Dads really weren't very savvy with mental health concerns, they just wouldn't talk about that with you. And that was endemic. And the generation before, one or two generations before, they were Victorians. We're talking about a long-standing, entrenched attitude towards men.
Maisie: Is there are a reason why men nowadays may not come out and speak about their suffering with mental health problems?
Stuart: It's the stigma attached to it, and the fear of judgement in terms of what I've just said about role models and expectations... And those expectations, by the way, aren't necessarily societal any more - but individuals will still think that way, and that's the problem. The taboo still exists even if it’s not seen as so stigmatised now to talk about your emotions and how you feel. In fact, a lot of things will encourage you to do that, even if they don’t say so. They may not say it in those words, but you can the feeling that ‘oh, it’s okay, because they did it’
Maisie's film (along with the full interview) will be available to watch soon; keep an eye on our social media to make sure you don't miss it!
Three Things You Can Do To Help Men's Mental Health (All Year Round)
Just Listen (And Read Between The Lines)
Just being there for your friends, family-members, colleagues, etc can make the world of difference. Practice listening without judgement, without interrupting (it can be more difficult than you even realise). Try and show that you're interested through body language, and put your phone to one side.
Be aware that people (particularly men) will often tell you that they are struggling with their mental health without saying the words 'I am struggling with my mental health' - phrases like 'I'm just stressed', 'I'm not feeling myself at the moment', or 'I've got a lot on my mind right now' can indicate that someone is going through a tough time mentally.
'How are you?' is often treated as more of a social nicety than a genuine question about wellbeing. Following up with 'how are you, really?' can show that you really do care about the answer, and that you are there to listen if that's what they need.
It's also helpful to keep in mind that one study found that if they wanted to talk about their own mental health, 35% of men would ask their friend how they are doing, in the hopes that they would ask them back.
Be Open About Your Own Mental Health
Speaking frankly about your own mental health struggles - past or present, diagnosed or not - can make help smash the stigma, and make other people more comfortable speaking about you about theirs. Sharing your own experiences can make people around you feel that you will be understanding and not judge them for their feelings and/or thoughts. Vulnerability breeds authenticity.
Dismantle Other Stereotypical Gender Roles
Gender roles are complex and intertwined. The idea that men should not speak about their feelings is tied to the idea that men should be socially dominant, physically strong, and financial breadwinners. The more that these stereotypes get broken down, the fewer pressures there will be on men to live up to an impossible ideal.
What do you think we can be doing to help men's mental health? Share it with your friends and family to keep people talking about men's mental health, or leave a comment to help us start an open conversation about mental health and wellbeing!
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