9 reasons why men won’t discuss their mental health:
After a survey, the Priory (A Private Care Group) said that 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health, and here are some of the reasons:
- Some say they just deal with it, or they’ve learnt how to ignore it
- Many would say they’re too embarrassed to admit to it
- They’re afraid of the stigma
- They don’t want to burden anyone i.e. wife
- Some don’t want to admit they need support or don’t want to come across as weak and
- some don’t have anyone to talk to
- They don’t feel comfortable even talking to their GP, worried they’re wasting their Doctors’ time
- Afraid if they mention it, they’ll lose their job or their partner
- Worry that by displaying their vulnerability, they’ll lose the respect of others.
Why the problem with men and mental health?
It really does come down to the way men were brought up and the messages they learned at home or in the playground, “Get up, don’t be a cissy.” and “You’re a boy, you need to be brave.” These are very dated and dysfunctional responses to little boys and we have much to do to change all this.
Still, is it any wonder men have a hard time seeking support? But because men don’t like to admit they have a mental illness they’re not accessing mental health services, and so — they go undiagnosed and untreated.
Mental illness is very unpleasant
Mental illness is at best, very unpleasant and at worst, it’s absolute hell. In the western world, it’s a major reason for people having to take time off work. Yet many men still don’t like to admit to their bosses that they’re stressed or that they have a mental illness, they’d rather invent some other excuse.
Working in Human Resources (HR), I saw men of all ages who’d come to us to say they couldn’t tell their boss they felt stressed. They’d ask if we could tell their boss instead, and would we not say it’s for mental health reasons.
I feel quite ashamed about how I’d empathise with females back then, but not the men. While I wouldn’t have said anything to their face, I was judgemental and thought they were weak. Thankfully times have changed and I most certainly have.
Later, as a mental health nurse, I had the honour of working with lots of amazing men experiencing different mental health disorders; from anxiety and depression or OCD to the more severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Each had their own humbling story about how they got to where they were, and I shed tears on more than one occasion. However, despite all the care and support in the world, some patients just couldn’t hold on — I know of many male suicides and it never gets any easier to hear.
Some symptoms you might notice
Mental health signs and symptoms can vary, depending on the diagnosis, disorder, circumstances and other factors, and can affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviors so. Being able to recognize and accept the signs that you or someone you know might have a mental health disorder is the first step. Symptoms might include:
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows — different from your ‘normal’ mental state and for more than two weeks
- Hopelessness, or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure from things that used to provide enjoyment)
- Confused thinking, unable to make simple decisions and reduced ability to concentrate
- Significant low energy, tiredness, or problems sleeping, constantly waking up early i.e. 3-4 a.m.
- Constant restlessness, can’t sit still, fidgeting
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that other people can’t see).
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt/shame
- Unable to understand and relate to situations and to people – might come across as confused when they try to interact
- Inability to cope with activities of daily living i.e. not eating or drinking (non-alcoholic) enough and inability to tend self-care
- Displaying excessive hostility, anger, or violence — masking underlying physical or mental disorders
- Changes in alcohol or drug intake — they could be self-medicating
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Major changes in sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation
While lots of people have some of these symptoms some of the time, it’s very different to mental health symptoms. With depression for example, your GP would expect you to have a cluster of symptoms, all at the same time and for over 2 weeks.
How to help a man experiencing mental illness
Would you know of any man experiencing mental illness or who feels suicidal? Would you know what to do?
- You can be there for them, just listening and I know this is hard but — don’t interrupt, listen actively (for more on listening skills see here).
- Tell them they will survive, they will stay safe and these thoughts will pass.
- Ask if they’re having suicidal thoughts and if so, do they have any intent i.e. do they have a plan and the means — if they do, you need to call their GP or other professional. *Asking if someone is suicidal will not make them go and do it!
- Do not give advice if you’re not trained in mental health, you might give the wrong advice. Instead, offer information and signpost them or take them to the appropriate services.
- Try not to ask them why they feel depressed/anxious/suicidal — it’s not helpful right now and all you’ll likely get is a list of reasons — think on, what would you do with all this?
- Try not to offer platitudes, rather reflect, paraphrase, summarize. You’ll get more if you ask open-ended rather than closed (yes or no) questions. And don’t be scared about silences or filling the gaps.
- Let them know they’re not a burden and tell them that you’ll get through this together but — don’t make promises you can’t keep, if you let them down, that might make them feel worse.
- Tell them they’re not alone; many others experience mental illness and lead fulfilling lives — they have good jobs and are contributing towards society, they’re married or dating, they have good social lives and they’re able to carry out their activities of daily living.
- Explain that some mental illnesses are a result of chemical changes in the brain — it’s not about being weak and failing — at times we live in a hostile, stressful, demanding and right now, a scary world.
- Some symptoms of a mental illness mimic physical illnesses at times, such as headaches, generally aches and pains, back and stomach pains so they must see a GP to see if there’s any underlying physical problems that need treatment.
- You can’t force someone to access professional care, but you can support them in making an appointment with a mental health professional and you can offer to go with them?
- If someone has self-harmed or is considering doing so, take the person to the hospital or call for emergency help.
- Don’t make throw away statement such as “You can’t be depressed, you’ve got a nice car, a big house etc.” If a man says he’s feeling anxious or depressed — trust me, he is!
- If you think someone is showing signs of psychosis and they’re paranoid, try to remain calm, give them reassurances that they’re safe with you and that no harm will come to them — stay with them — only if it’s safe to do so! Otherwise, be aware, stay safe and call for emergency help immediately.
So, we know what problems men face and how we can help them. What we need to be doing now, is teaching our children, girls and boys, about emotions and how to manage or cope with them. If we can do this, we’ll also reduce the stigma around mental illness.
Let little boys know it’s okay to cry if they’re hurt or sad. Show them pictures of different faces, showing anger, smiles, laughing, shy, happy and sad – get them to point to a face that will explain how they’re feeling right now. Never tell them “big boy’s don’t cry.”
Would you be able explain to others how to help a man who’s experiencing mental health problems? I’d love to hear your comments and I’m happy to answer any questions.
You may find the following articles useful:
Anxiety in men
men suicide article