This month we are turning our focus to men’s mental health. To succeed in addressing the causes of poor mental health, we must equip us men (and boys) to find the path to more consistent levels of good mental health.
Why? We are all aware of the fact that men make up three quarters of all suicides in the UK. But there is more. Our new research looks at men and stress and it throws up some concerning statistics.
First, only 24% of men who have felt high levels of stress have discussed this with a friend or family member. I know I am often in the 76% that hunkers down and pretends things are fine. This is worrying, because we know internalising problems often makes them worse.
We need to reach the stage where us men feel comfortable to discuss our mental health. As we know from the progress made in stopping people smoking, change only happens when cultural narratives and values start to shift too.
The idea of a ‘real man’ is as out of date as a John Wayne Stetson and we all have a role in setting men free from that parody.
Almost one in three men say they’d started drinking alcohol or increased the amount of alcohol they drank in order to cope.
Men were also twice as likely as women to report using illegal drugs when feeling stressed. The equivalent of over 2 million men in the UK said they’d started using illegal drugs, or using more illegal drugs as a result of stress. Dealing with stress in this way can often intensify underlying feelings and often brings more shame that makes it harder for us to ask for help.
Unable to cope
In total, two thirds of men said that they’d felt so stressed at some point over the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. A third have experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of feeling stressed.
While stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it often leads to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.
Men are slowly learning to cope when they feel under pressure due to societal expectations and gender roles.
We need to be confident enough to reject the critics who will claim this will lead to a generation of snowflakes. We must understand that there is nothing tougher or more resilient than being vulnerable.
If you are worried about someone in your life who is going through a hard time, talking is the first step.