Men’s Health Week: 15-21 June 2020

It is not OK to be open and honest about how you are feeling if you are a man. This premise is still strongly present in our society. Owning Mental Health issues if you are male is still a taboo and this is in part why the suicide rate is higher for men than women, particularly young men.

It has been shown that being unable to communicate how you are feeling is a key risk factor:

It’s too simplistic to say women are willing to share their problems and men tend to bottle them up. But it is true that, for generations, many societies have encouraged men to be ‘strong’ and not admit they’re struggling. It often starts in childhood. “We tell boys that ‘boys don’t cry’,” We condition boys from a very young age to not express emotion, because to express emotion is to be ‘weak’.

There is evidence that mothers tend to talk to their girl children and share and identify feelings more with them than with their boy children. We almost expect women to be emotional but not men. Recognition that this is the case is being highlighted more now but it is still the case that the stereotype is part of our ‘collective unconscious’ and therefore hard to shift.

Articles like this are raising awareness, but there is still a lot to do to change the way we think and respond to mental health issues in men.

Mental health issues can be exacerbated when there are pressures of work, or of not having work, this may create financial pressure all of which impacts on relationships. Feeling isolated and that things are out of our control can also impact and these are currently very much to the fore with the restrictions the pandemic has necessitated that we are all enduring .

The CEO of Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity that is dedicated to preventing male suicide (CALM) says that are

“We’re brought up our entire lives to judge ourselves in comparison with our peers and to be economically successful,”

When this doesn’t seem achievable men feel unable to share their negative thoughts and seek the help they need.

Raising awareness is important but what is more so is that each and every one of us hold ourselves in check and accountable, and think about whether we personally perpetuate this view in our relationships with men, whether we are male or female. All of us have a duty of care to the men and boys in our lives to think about our responses and attitudes. It is important to create safe spaces where we can allow vulnerability and open communication. We need to remember though, that men find it harder to talk about feelings or even to recognise they are having difficulties because they are so used to bottling everything up and denying that things are not OK. We need a sea change in attitude but that can begin with each of us speaking to the men around us differently, considering whether our expectations of them are too high, or even unachievable for them and actively encourage rather than discourage open communication without judgement and censorship.

Some helpful links

This article was written by Hilary Arthur, Director & Clinical Lead at Riverside Counselling Service