Although mental health is being acknowledged and talked about far more than ever before, we still have a long way to go when it comes to supporting men with their mental health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged between 20 and 35, according to the charity Movember. It can be tricky to know how to support someone you’re worried about, Express.co.uk is joined by a psychotherapist who gives her expert tips on reaching out.
As we come to the end of November, a month synonymous with Movember, an initiative by the men’s mental health charity to raise awareness, we are reminded of how many men in the UK struggle with their mental health.
According to the charity Movember, more than 4,300 British men take their own lives every year.
Men are much more likely to commit suicide than women; 75 percent of suicides in the UK are committed by men.
These stark and saddening statistics remind us there is so much more to be done when it comes to spotting the signs of mental distress in our friends, family and loved ones.
Express.co.uk is joined exclusively by Debbie Longsdale, Therapy Services Director at independent mental health care provider the Priory Group, speaking on behalf of leading global mental health app My Possible Self.
Debbie says: “In terms of the stigma, I think men can see themselves as being a bit of a burden, or think it’s a bit embarrassing. But I think we need to continue spreading the message that it is OK to talk and you’re not going to be a burden.
“I do think as a therapist we deal with people who are in senior positions in organisations, and perhaps their parents brought them up with the idea ‘boys don’t cry’.
“Mental health is a scale and those who have learned coping strategies can use those to manage their symptoms and move forward positively.”
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Debbie mentions how economic uncertainty and job losses over the course of the coronavirus pandemic saw lots of men grappling with mental health issues, while relationship breakdowns and stress from work also loomed large for many of her patients.
The idea men need to be the “breadwinner” of their family is still prominent today, and when their ability to provide is under threat, it can cause mental distress.
However, because of the stigma surrounding men’s mental health, many men won’t even recognise the signs of mental distress in themselves, or admit to themselves they might be struggling.
These are the most common symptoms of mental health issues.
Debbie says: “The main changes seem to be changes to your sleep pattern.
“So some people struggle to get to sleep, or wake up a lot, which can lead to sleep deprivation, which is really difficult for our brains to handle.”
Debbie says: “In men particularly, you might notice yourself become angry more quickly.
“That’s often a way men try to express themselves, but they don’t find the right words or know quite how to communicate, and their frustration comes out as anger.”
Debbie adds that although in society anger is seen as a negative emotion, in a therapy setting anger can be a really helpful emotion to unpack what might be at the root of someone’s frustration.
Drinking and drugs
Leaning on alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms is “more prevalent” in men, says Debbie.
For some, this can lead to struggles with dependency and addiction, which can begin to spiral into many more health issues.
Other symptoms include:
- Weight loss and gain
- Struggling to concentrate in the workplace
- Lack of libido
- Physical pains and aches
If you’re looking out for a friend, there are other tell-tale signs in their behaviour you might be able to spot.
Debbie says: “I think the main thing is noticing a change in someone you know quite well.
“So maybe somebody who was quite good at coming for a drink after work stops turning up, they become unreliable and withdraw quite a lot.
“Withdrawal is quite a predictable response from someone who is slipping into a depression, or anxiety can stop people from going to things.
“To me, that would be a flag or a low-level alarm.”
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How to support someone you’re worried about
If you are worried about a man in your life – whether they’re a friend, colleague or family member – it can be difficult to know how to broach the subject of mental health.
However, reaching out can give someone a helping hand when they need it most.
Debbie shares her expert insight as a psychotherapist on how to reach out to someone you think might be in distress.
Debbie says: “I think with men’s mental health, it’s about working out how a person might feel comfortable talking, because that’s the key bit; getting them talking and releasing some of the pressure.
“When I was doing therapy sessions with men and someone would struggle to open up in our session, we would try getting up and going for a walk.
“Sitting down with a cup of tea for a chat won’t always work; some men won’t feel comfortable doing that, and that’s OK.
“So my advice would be to go for a walk, there’s not as much pressure to make eye contact or anything like that.
“Or go and play some sport; whilst you’re playing there’s the opportunity for some gentle conversation and listening.”
Debbie recommends the free-to-download app My Possible Self, which could be a powerful tool for those struggling with their mental health.
She suggests pointing anyone in the direction of the app, which has been designed to offer people techniques used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – also known as CBT – helps people to understand their thought processes better, and teaches coping mechanisms to stop you from getting into a spiral of negative thinking.
The app My Possible Self can help anyone – of any gender – to access tools to help with their mental health.
My Possible Self is a free NHS endorsed global mental health app which provides holistic and engaging tools to support and improve the mental wellbeing of all. To find out more, visit www.mypossibleself.com
When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.