With Mental Health Awareness Week in May, and Men’s Health Week in June, it seems like a good opportunity to discuss men’s mental health. Research suggests that there’s a silent crisis around men’s mental health, and the Mental Health Foundation estimates that around one in eight men have a common mental health issue in England.
Men and women experience many of the same mental health issues, but men tend to be less willing to discuss theirs for fear of showing weakness and may bury these issues deep down inside. This means that the issues never get an airing and the negative feelings and emotions remain bottled up. When these emotions do spill out, they can manifest themselves as anger, restlessness, low mood, sleep problems and feelings of hopelessness, amongst many others. Some mental health symptoms can appear to be physical issues, such as a racing heart, ongoing headaches and digestion problems.
To understand why men can be less forthcoming about mental health issues, we have to look at the concept of masculinity. An outdated societal expectation was that men should appear to be in control and stoic. Speaking about mental health issues can be quite a vulnerable thing to do and goes against those old beliefs. However, understanding that those expectations are out-of-date can sow the seeds for change.
Famous men with mental health issues
In the past it sometimes felt like successful men in the media were not always prepared to share their personal challenges. However, that is all beginning to change with the likes of Prince William and Prince Harry speaking openly about the mental health issues they’ve faced. Indeed both princes launched the Heads Together campaign to tackle the stigma around mental health, and also supported the launch of Shout, the UK’s first free 24/7 text service for anyone in crisis anytime and anywhere.
Household name celebrities are also acknowledging their own mental health battles. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has spoken openly about the years of depression he went through after witnessing his mother’s attempted suicide. Rugby world cup winning legend, Johnny Wilkinson has suffered with severe anxiety and even referred to himself as a ‘shivering wreck’ before important matches. He would shut himself in the bathroom prior to going on the pitch, consumed by nerves and there were a number of times he felt like he wouldn’t be able to go out at all. This from one of the greatest rugby players of all time goes to show that mental health issues can affect anyone at any stage of their lives.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s OK to feel sad, depressed and anxious. We all experience these feelings and all the uncertainties that come from the challenges we encounter in our personal and professional lives. However it’s not OK to suffer in silence. Statistics show that men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women in the UK. Yet there’s never been a better time to seek help. If you don’t feel ready for psychotherapy, you can always speak to someone you trust whether that’s a family member, friend or even your GP.
Another option could be to attend a group like Andy’s Man Club, depending on where you live, where groups of men gather to discuss what’s been going on in their life, without any pressures or expectations placed on them. The goal of Andy’s Man Club is to halve male suicide in the UK, which is currently the single biggest killer of men under 45. According to a Samaritans study from 2018, men are three times more likely to take their lives than women in the UK, rising to four times as likely in Ireland. The first step of talking about how you feel may seem like the hardest, but it may also be one of the most important.
One of our male cuddle practitioners, Johnny, is also behind the Suicide Guarantee campaign, seeking to ensure that help is guaranteed at A&E in the UK to prevent avoidable deaths from suicide. Speaking about men’s mental health issues, he writes:
“I feel that some men are finding it easier to cope with expressions of their feelings which, I feel, in turn can have a positive impact on their mental health. There is still a section of society that wants to pigeon hole men (and women) in terms of how they behave, how they should respond. We need to tackle this.
I feel starting from an early age, children should be educated in expressing themselves and taught listening and counselling skills. Imagine a generation of people who know as much about counselling as they do about maths, English and science! The first step we can all take is to look after our own mental wellbeing. If you are living a life you desire and making choices that help you remain stable and happy then you are doing a great thing. If on top of that you can offer space to anyone around you to express themselves, without judgement, you will be part of the change that we have in moving things forward. And if you aren't feeling great, having the courage to ask for help can be a starting point for us all.
I feel that we are moving in the right direction but the more we talk and support movements in the field of men's mental health, and mental wellbeing in general, we can provide a safer environment for us all.”
Some additional practical ideas include:
· Reading more about mental health issues and advice that’s easily available.
· Think about the resources you have in your fight, which could include close friends, exercising or even engaging in therapeutic creative pursuits like writing.
· Identify people who’ve been through equally difficult times, whether that’s a celebrity, a sports star or someone you know. Try get an understanding of the positive steps they took to manage their mental health issues and see if you can implement any of those same processes in your life.
Cuddle therapy and mental health
It’s important to stress that cuddle therapy is NOT a suitable replacement for proper medical advice or psychological therapy, and these should always be sought where they are required.
Cuddle therapy can be a small part of a wider wellness solution helping to address mental health issues. It can help lower feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, thereby helping to improve emotional wellbeing by acting as a form of stress management that also provides relaxation and comfort during difficult times. As Johnny mentions, cuddles can also be a way to show care:
“My dad suffered from bi-polar depression so I have always had an awareness of men's mental health issues. Sometimes the best way my dad could express himself was through a cuddle. My mum and dad were always warm and very giving with their cuddles which has drawn me to cuddle therapy I feel.”
Organisations that can provide help
Additional resources for mental health guidance and advice include:
· Heads Together - https://www.headstogether.org.uk/
· Shout - https://www.giveusashout.org/
· CALM - https://www.thecalmzone.net/
· The Mental Health Foundation - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/tags/men
· Andy’s Man Club - http://andysmanclub.co.uk/