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Lets talk about men’s mental health

In the U.K, around 1 in 8 men are experiencing a common mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety (http://content.digital.nhs.uk/pubs/psychiatricmorbidity07). In recent years, many male celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Brad Pitt, have spoken openly about their mental health struggles. Despite this increase in public awareness, much stigma and misunderstanding remains around men’s mental health.

Pressures on men

Many pressures in today’s society are contributing to a deterioration in men’s mental health. Firstly, there are work pressures, with over one third of men reporting that they are “constantly feeling stressed” whilst at work (http://www.hse.gov.uk/Statistics/lfs/index.htm). Unfortunately, many men do not feel able to talk to their bosses about their issues. Men are almost three times more likely to feel ashamed when taking time off work for mental health issues than physical health issues (https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mental-health).

Social media and advertising are increasingly portraying unrealistic images of men’s bodies. Often these pictures are airbrushed, causing men to strive for the unachievable. It’s no wonder then, that some research has found that men are even more concerned about their body image than women (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/06/body-image-concerns-men-more-than-women) and there has been a 30% increase in eating disorder diagnoses in men in the past 15 years (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/18/are-more-men-getting-eating-disorders)

Are there any gender differences in mental health?

Although women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue than men (https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/dec/13/gender-differences-mental-health), men are much more likely to report that they are dissatisfied with their lives (http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/measuringnationalwellbeing/2015-09-23). This dissatisfaction may be, in part, due to the fact that men tend to have smaller social support networks than women and therefore often suffer alone (https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/research/publications/505923).

When it comes to asking for help, men are much more reluctant than women (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12674814). Perhaps men feel it’s important to stay strong and independent and view asking for help is a sign of weakness. Men are also more likely to hold negative views about mental health issues than women, such as thinking less of someone for having a mental health issue (http://mcr.sagepub.com/content/66/5/522), and may therefore fear being judged by others who hold those same attitudes. It may come as no surprise then to see that men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women (http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_351100.pdf).

Ways of helping yourself

If you’re a man and struggling with your mental health, it’s important to remember that there are many ways of improving how you’re feeling. Of course, the type of help that will benefit you may depend on the type of symptoms that you are experiencing. Learning more about mental health issues can be very useful, and there are many good resources available online (e.g. www.mind.org.uk). Doing your own research may help change any negative views that you have about mental health issues, whilst improving your understanding of your own mental health.

Additionally, there are many online forums where you can speak to people who may be in a similar situation to yourself (https://www.elefriends.org.uk/). Many people find these kinds of online support networks extremely helpful.

Exercise is an excellent way of boosting your mood (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17846259) and team sports allow you to socialise with other like-minded people. If you’ve not exercised for a while, it’s important to find an activity that you enjoy and start small. Pushing yourself too early on may put you off exercising altogether.

It’s also important to speak to the people around you about your mental health concerns, as these people will be able to help support you. Try not to view help-seeking as a weakness; instead, view it as a sign of being proactive, responsible and practical.

When to seek professional help

If your symptoms have persisted for more than a couple of weeks and you’re struggling to carry out normal day-to-day tasks, such as going to work, then it may be time to seek professional help.

Talking therapies can be useful for a range of different mental health conditions. CBT, in particular, is effective for many different mental health issues (http://cognitivepractice.com/is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-right-for-me/) and may be particularly suited to men, as it emphasizes the development of practical skills (http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4317207.aspx).

Some people find medication helpful. However, medication often comes with side-effects and, as a result, many people stop taking medication. To find out more about medication, try the NHS website (http://www.nhs.uk/pages/home.aspx) or book an appointment with your GP.

Finally, if you need somebody to speak to, Samaritans offer a non-judgemental telephone service, 24 hours a day (http://www.samaritans.org/).

Connor Heapy
Writer for Cognitive Practice
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