When it comes to mental health issues, men need to talk

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One person in six will experience some kind of mental health problem, but men struggle to ask for help. Grace Hammond reports.

DISCUSSING your mental health, especially if you are struggling with low moods and depression, is never easy. But on the whole, women are far better at talking to one another about their mental wellbeing than men.

The same is true of the media – every day, newspapers and magazines touch on how women feel, whether it’s anxiety, or 
simply coping with life’s ups and downs.

Yet these issues are rarely discussed in relation to men. However, organisers of this year’s Men’s Health Week, which runs from June 10-16, are urging men to open up more and seek help with the campaign tag line: “You only live once, so talk to someone.”

According to statistics, one in six people – both men and women – will experience a mental health problem at some stage in their life, and research by the mental health charity Mind has found that 37 per cent of men are feeling worried or low. Yet their wives, partners, other relatives and friends may have no idea there’s a problem, because so many men keep problems to themselves.

Not talking about it or seeking help though isn’t doing them any favours – in fact, it usually makes their problems far worse. Men account for three in four suicides, while 73 per cent of people who go missing are men. “I think men are generally less willing to seek help about their mental health than women.

“It’s not that mental health issues are more common in men, it’s what men do about them that’s the problem,” says Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the Men’s Health Forum which organises Men’s Health Week.

“Culturally, men are reluctant to admit and talk about personal problems because they see it as embarrassing and a sign of weakness and vulnerability,” says Chisholm.

“There’s a reluctance to make a fuss or appear silly, and a feeling that things will get better even if they take no action.”

Those with families have an advantage because they have a ready-made support network, but if they don’t it can easily go unnoticed. Which is why it’s important to raise awareness of the issues. “The more that people’s awareness is raised, the more that men will be likely to talk,” says Chisholm.

“The situation isn’t going to change overnight, but we want people to realise that talking, and going to see their GP, is a positive step. And if they see their doctor they won’t just be offered drugs, as there are services such as cognitive behavioural therapy which people may not be aware of.”

However, Mind has found that men are half as likely as women to go to a counsellor or therapist to talk about their feelings, while almost twice as many men as women drink alcohol to cope with feeling down. “Many men seek solace in drink and sometimes become isolated and withdrawn, so anything that can make it easier for them to talk about their health has got to be a step in the right direction,” says Chisholm.

Bridget O’Connell of Mind says it’s when poor mental health interferes with day-to-day life that people should seek help.

The poor economic situation has taken its toll on men’s mental health, and Mind points out that one in seven men develop depression within six months of losing their job which is why the charity has developed a project to support unemployed men.

O’Connell stresses that it’s important to distinguish temporarily feeling sad with real depression or anxiety.

“Everyone occasionally feels low but, if the feelings are interfering with daily living and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back over and over again, it could be a sign you have depression.”

Symptoms of depression include feeling agitated, helpless, irritable, and being unable to relate to other people. She recognises that many people are fearful of the stigma that may surround mental health issues, but stresses that seeking help earlier rather than later is crucial. “Early intervention is crucial in preventing deterioration and a mental health crisis which can lead to feeling suicidal,” says O’Connell.

She suggests that healthcare services should be more “male-friendly”, for example by offering treatments that might appeal more to men, like exercise or computer therapy.

“Men have told us they feel health services are more geared towards women, which can put them off seeking help,” she says.

“But suffering in silence only makes things worse and has the potential to be fatal.”

For more information about Men’s Health Week visit www.malehealth.co.uk