I’ve been asked to write a little about men’s mental by employers. It’s great that employers are now finally taking this previously silent epidemic seriously. It’s also a genuine honour to be asked to do this, that my personal pain and lessons are valued by others. However, I can’t write just a “few” words on such an enormous topic. What’s somewhat ironic is that my mental health and mood has been low recently. I also don’t pretend to have all the answers or that Mental Health is worse for any gender for that matter.
I’m certainly not an expert on Men’s Mental Health. Very few people actually are. There is still very little scientific evidence that men have worse mental health than any other gender. However, statically, men are more likely to end their own lives because of poor mental health.
I do feel, though, that I am an expert on MY mental health. Being a man (whatever that now means), having facilitated a male suicide prevention talking groups, been a panellist and delivered many talks including a TEDx on this topic, I guess that people value my perspective.
It’s not news that we can all have poor mental health, irrespective of our gender. However, it’s fairly obvious that we are all wired up differently, with individual DNA, varying levels of hormones and therefore, the role of neurotransmitters are generally different for men and women. I do believe that men haven’t adapted so well over time, socially and in the environments, we now find ourselves in. Our fathers probably felt the same.
Many say that men don’t talk about their feelings. In my opinion, this is an over-simplification of men. Most of us are sensitive. My observations are that us men often ignore our feelings and don’t know how to express them. And worse, are not permitted to express them without being judged by others and by ourselves.
Modern sedentary jobs, with complex hierarchies, ever-changing expectations of success have left me, and others feeling, uncertain, mentally drained and unbalanced. We all want to belong, justify our existence (add value). Therefore, in times of stress, we work even harder than ever before and isolate ourselves without considering the mental intensity and drain on our energy. General anxiety builds, depressive episodes go unaddressed.
Whilst I don’t have the answers, I do have experience of what has worked for my friends and myself. My first (of a few) breakdowns occurred as a result of overworking, not sleeping enough, not exercising enough, isolating myself and generally ignoring the signs that I wasn’t mentally well.
At a particularly low point of my life, caused by (another) a lengthy period of overworking, I attended a talking group “AndysManClub”. Walking through the doors for the first time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. However, during the first session, I felt much better. I learned more about myself and I enjoyed listening to and helping others. I went back each week and began to facilitate the group which involved allowing individuals to talk, share their feelings and find solutions to their problems without judgement from anyone in the group. Although I no longer attend AMC, I have gained new lifelong, like-minded friends. We continue to support each other. Many of us have moved on after finding new ways of managing ourselves.
To raise awareness of the charity I agreed to run a half-marathon for the first time. This was a huge challenge for me as I hadn’t run properly for many years. What started as alcohol-induced bravado became another turning point in my life.
Burning adrenaline is an instant relief from anxiety and keeps low mood away. Team activities and sports combine exercise and social connectivity. Gym and solo pursuits are great for periods of reflection when we go into our cave. Meditation and gratitude can be performed in many ways.
Talking allows us to develop the ability to express our emotions. Better still, listening to others takes our focus from ourself to another, a problem shared is a problem halved they say.
If I were to summarise my advice to other male colleagues struggling their own mental health it would be this;
- Take ownership of your own life, observe your thoughts and feelings, recognise when you are unwell and do something about it.
- Find the triggers and do something about it.
- Try many techniques and find work for you.
- Develop a routine that works for you.
- Take back control of your career and future. You don’t have to change your job to feel better, you can change how and when you work. Make sure though that you see the value of your work and it aligns with your purpose and values.
- Be open to change and accept the support of others.
- Look after your health; physical, mental and emotional health are intrinsically part of who you are.
Remember that having mental ill health doesn’t define you and or last for the rest of your life. It can pass and often does pass.
Be kind to yourself and others!
“It’s alright mate, let’s talk about it”.