‘Movember’ is a key month to encourage men to be open up about men’s mental health, talk about it, and acknowledge when they have problems.
In a Thrive4Life talk, entitled’ Putting the Men back into Mental Health’ world expert on Men’s Health, Peter Baker, Director of Global Action on Men’s Health, and Author of ‘Real Health for Men’ gave great insight into how to support men’s mental health, one of the key focuses of Movember – International men’s health month.
Flexible working – how it is changing our lives
With flexible working, many of us are reducing our time in the office compared to pre-pandemic. We are now often dealing with a mix of home/office working environments, which has understandably changed many factors that relate to our work; for example, having to deal with working on our own some of the week, having less interaction with other people, whether it be formal, as in a work situation, or incidental, in our everyday lives. These changes are significant to men, as work is an important part of many men’s identity.
Men and alcohol
Peter Baker, commented that “Men are more likely to use alcohol as a way of trying to cope with mental health problems. It is very common for men to drink more when they are feeling sad, depressed, anxious or stressed.”. They are also more likely to ‘self-medicate’ in other ways, such as using drugs or gambling as, similar to alcohol, it helps to distract them from feeling the effects of poor men’s mental health.
Men and Suicide
Movember is a month we are reminded about the fact that men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50 in the UK, with men between the ages of 45-49 facing the highest risk, with a suicide rate of 25.5 per 100,000. While there is no known difference between the incidence of mental health problems or suicidal thoughts between genders, these statistics reflect the lower probability of men seeking help for their problems.
As most people spend a large proportion of their lives at work, working conditions play a key role in overall health and wellbeing. Several intersecting factors influence suicidal tendencies but workplace experiences are a key piece of the puzzle.
The stigma surrounding mental health and suicide means this topic is often left out of workplace discussions. Lack of open communication and Line Manager Training leaves employees ill-equipped to identify the signs of deteriorating mental health and suicidal thoughts in their co-workers.
Symptoms of mental health in men
Health professionals often miss signs of poor mental health in men – the symptoms of mental health problems can be different in men and may often present initially with a physical condition which professionals may not immediately associate with a mental health problem. Peter Baker commented that “symptoms are different in men. When men do go to the doctor, the problem they present with initially could be something like stomach pains or recurrent headaches. Doctors don’t necessarily associate these symptoms with a mental health problem, they often just treat the presenting physical symptoms.”.
Men often suffer in silence
It is important that men seek help because men suffering with poor mental health often suffer in silence. Peter emphasized “men’s mental health really does matter to men themselves and the people they live and work with.”. It can affect a man’s relationship with his partner, family and friends and impact his work. It can lead to anti-social behaviour, such as excessive alcohol consumption.
Common symptoms of men’s mental distress
Peter highlighted how anger, irritability, or aggressiveness are common symptoms associated with poor mental health in men and are often overlooked while diagnosing them. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious, restless, or ‘on edge’
- Feeling unable to cope
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
- Problems with sexual desire and performance – It is common for men who are depressed to not feel like having sex or encounter performance problems.
- Feeling sad, ‘empty’, flat, or hopeless
- Reduced capacity to focus, concentrate or remember details
- Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated
- Body image issues, often linked to exercise or eating disorders
Peter says “If you recognise some of these symptoms in yourself, perhaps you haven’t thought that they may be caused by depression, anxiety or stress. Think about whether this may be the case, and whether you need to get some help or support.”
Traditional expectations of men
What expectations of men did you grow up with? Men hear messages from a range of sources that become ingrained in them from an early age, as to how they should behave and express themselves around health matters. They may find it hard to break out of this pattern unless they face a serious health problem, where they are forced to take action.
Peter talked generally about the traditional perceived expectations of men:
- With regard to their emotions, “men are allowed to show some emotions like anger but are not expected to show the ones that are deemed unmasculine, like crying. They are expected to be ‘strong’.”.
- Work is central to many men’s lives. Part of a man’s identity is to work, and for most, it is very important to them. They are generally expected to be the breadwinners, to provide and protect their families.”.
- When it comes to their health, men are more likely to neglect their health. If they have any signs or symptoms of poor mental or physical health, they are reluctant to admit that there is something wrong with them. Men may have concerns about their health but have a tendency to keep their worries bottled up inside. They find it hard to talk and ask for help and this is even more true for mental health problems.
7 Key Questions to ask men about their mental health
Peter suggested seven key questions to ask Men about their mental health:
- How are things (How are things, really?)
- What’s going well? – it’s important to acknowledge this
- What’s not going well? – being honest about this is important
- Is there anything you need to do?
- Is there any support you need? Whether it’s information or one to one support
- What’s one step you might take? What could be the first step in your journey to better mental wellbeing?
- What difference might taking this step make to your life?
The power of journaling or writing down your thoughts
Writing down your thoughts is not something that a lot of people think of doing. However, it can be extremely helpful to write about what you’re thinking and feeling. These notes aren’t for you to share with anyone else, it is simply a means to help you clarify and express your thoughts to yourself, in a way that is safe and easy.
You can start by writing about what you’ve done that day and how you’re feeling, then start to reflect on other areas of your life that might be troubling you. Try not to overthink it: a journal is your own personal space. You’re not writing it for anyone else or for posterity. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
If you are suffering from feelings of low self-worth, reflect on all your achievements, no matter how small. List everything you value about yourself and what others value about you.
Maybe set time aside for writing in your journal (e.g. 10 minutes before bed) to make it part of your routine. Keep it somewhere safe, perhaps in a password-protected document on your PC.
The ‘five ways to wellbeing’ for men’s health – The CAN DO manual suggested by Peter Baker
- CONNECT with other people – Having a good social network is very important. We know people who are lonely and isolated tend to have the worst health.
- Be physically ACTIVE – It releases feel good endorphins in our brain. Any form of exercise is important for supporting your mental and physical wellbeing. Find something that you enjoy!
- NOTICE the present moment – Mindfulness. Try to stay in the present and notice what is going on around you. Most of us spend the majority of our time ruminating in our heads and worrying about things in the past or future and forgetting about enjoying the present.
- DISCOVER new skills – The mental stimulation from this is extremely important for mental health. Take up a new hobby, learn a language, or try some DIY. It’s all good for mental wellbeing and long-term brain health.
- OFFER help, kindness and compassion to others wherever you can – This has been shown to significantly support your own mental health. Be kind to the people around you and those you encounter as you go about your daily business.
Be drink aware
With the festive season just ahead of us, it is time to be mindful about alcohol consumption. If you are a regular drinker, set yourself a budget for alcohol, try cutting back a little each day, or choose a lower strength drink. Try to have several alcohol-free days each week to give your liver a chance to recover! If you decide to cut back on your drinking, make a public commitment by telling your family and friends you are doing it. This makes you more likely to stick to it and they can support you. If you do over-indulge over Christmas, why not try the dry January challenge.
Remember the recommended alcohol limit for men and women is 14 units a week (about 6 pints)
Where to get help
People have to take responsibility for their own health, and most will only seek help when they are ready to. However, if you know someone is suffering with a mental health problem, provide them with support and encouragement. Workplaces should ensure that all their staff are regularly reminded about the support services that are available to them and encourage them to seek guidance.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing poor mental health there are many resources you can access:
- Speaking to your GP is a good starting point
- Access any workplace support, which may be included in an Employee Assistance Programme or Private Medical Insurance or speak to your HR department or a Mental Health First Aider, if your company has them.
- Visit the NHS website – nhs.uk/mental-health
- Visit a counsellor/therapist (for info on how to find one: mind.org.uk)
- Speak to the Samaritans (Samaritans.org or telephone 116 123)
- Look at Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM – thecalmzone.net)
- Visit menssheds.org.uk, a great organisation that creates a community space for men to connect, converse and create, to help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
How Thrive4Life can help!
Thrive4Life can organise Educational Talks and Webinars that help to connect your employees to leading health and wellbeing experts with the aim of empowering them to lead healthier and more productive work lives. We offer health promotion in the form of an extensive library of engaging content with well-designed articles / newsletters.
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For more information about Thrive4Life services and training courses, get in touch or call us on 020 8972 9675.