Men: your attention please

Men: your attention please

Hey there. You. Yes you. The man. The men. Let’s pull up a chair and have a chat.

Hi All. I hope that you have all had a good week. How did you find my blog post from last week? Did you take on board any of the advice about hiking? Have you been for a hike? Would love to hear of your hiking adventures.

As some of you know who follow my weekly blogs, each week I look at things which are either experienced by lived experience of the moment and or inspired by the fitness and wellness journey that I am currently on. This week I would like to talk about men and mental health.

According to Counselling Directory (2018), mental health problems effect men and women differently,  and that on average more women are diagnosed to have a mental health illness, and that the rate of male suicide is significantly higher.

This may suggest that whilst men suffer from mental illnesses, that they may not be receiving or seeking the appropriate treatment.

It is suggested that one in five women and one in eight men are diagnosed with a common mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.

In terms of substance abuse men are more likely to develop a problem. Men are almost three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol. This equates to 8.7% of men, compared to 3.3% of women. Men are also three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women.

Depression is also often found to be more difficult to diagnose in men. This is because men don’t tend to complain about the typical symptoms, and more often than not, it’s the physical symptoms of depression that lead them to visit their doctor.

According to netdoctor.co.uk, the lifetime rate of depression is 12% in women and 8% in men. This marked difference could however be due to fewer men seeking help for depression.

Why men don’t like to talk about their feelings.

There are a few reasons why men don’t talk about their feelings. One reason is stigma. Cambule (2014) suggests that part of the stigma that still exists about mental health for men is that men have greater difficulty talking about their own struggles than women do.

Cambule (2014) suggests that one reason why men find it difficult to talk about their feelings is that they are still faced with some outdated stereotypes that men need to embody strength, be the hunter-gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is desirable, the “show no weakness” bravado of heroes in our media.

In many of these macho images, there is little room for showing poor mental health. The men who are most revered in society (famous, wealthy, successful, powerful) are not always ready to admit their struggles in public and that can leave the “average guy” feeling uncertain about speaking out.

Henriques (2014) suggests that males struggling to express how they feel may also be down to something called alexithymia.

Alexithymia is the clinical-sounding term for when someone has a lot of difficulty translating their emotional experience into words. Normative male alexithymia refers to the fact that traditional masculine role socialization channels many men into ways of being such that their masculine identity conflicts with many emotions they feel and what they feel they are “allowed” to express (i.e., they will be shamed and will feel as if they are “not real men” if they express feelings of vulnerability, dependency needs, weakness, etc.).

This can create enormous difficulty in relationships because the key variable in guiding couples to come together—or driving them apart, if the need is not met—is each partner’s need to feel known and valued by the other. If either partner cannot put into words their feelings about not being known and valued, but instead hides, defends, or deflects such feelings, then the chances of disharmony and vicious relational cycles are greatly increased. 

The impact that not seeking treatment has on men: suicide

The main reason experts suspect more men are affected by mental health problems than is reported is the high number of male suicide.  According to Counselling Directory (2018), in a study conducted in 2014, 4 in 5 suicides were seen to be done by men, and that the majority of these men were under the age of 35.

A 2012 study carried out by The Samaritans looked into the factors that might help to explain why certain groups of men are more likely than women to commit suicide. Two important risk factors found were age and socioeconomic status. Middle-aged men were found to be particularly at risk, with numbers of suicides in males aged 45-59 increasing over the last five years.

Middle-aged men today face being in two very different generations, the pre-war ‘silent’ and the post-war ‘me’ generation. This means they may feel stuck somewhere between the strong, silent male stereotype of their father’s generation and the more progressive and open generation of their son’s.

On top of this, middle age is a time when the weight of previous long-term decisions reveal themselves. Making changes can come with a hefty cost, financially and socially. Feeling trapped under choices made earlier in life can seriously compromise mental well-being.

The study also revealed that the suicide rate was 10 times higher in men who have a lower socioeconomic status than affluent males. There has been a well-known link between unemployment and suicide for some time, but in this study the authors discuss why, beyond losing a job, socioeconomic status might affect suicide rate.

The impact that not seeking treatment has on men: substance misuse

According to The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US) (2013) men are more reluctant to seek professional assistance for mental health-related problems and are more likely to turn to alcohol and substance misuse as a way to cope. 

Cambule (2014) suggests that this could be linked to stigma leading to males finding it difficult to communicate their feelings. One significant issue for men with co-occurring anxiety and substance use disorders is the use of alcohol and/or drugs to cope with anxiety symptoms (sometimes called self-medication).

For men with co-occurring anxiety and substance use disorders, substance abuse may be a means of coping, but as the substance use disorder progresses, it actually worsens anxiety disorder symptoms.

Substance abuse treatment is complicated by subsequent patient resistance toward giving up a drug that he feels is necessary for his emotional survival, by anxiety arising from emotionally intense treatment, and, in some cases, by deficits in social skills important in substance abuse recovery.

Because of masculine social norms, men may feel greater pressure to deny anxiety or to use avoidance coping methods (such as self-medication) to address it. This behaviour can be a persistent problem that endangers recovery for men with anxiety disorders, and it serves as an added impetus for counselors to address anxiety in treatment.

Talking about how you feel has many benefits. For one, getting your emotions and anxieties out, acknowledged and reflected can help you make sense of these feelings.

Campbell (2016) suggests that it is incredibly important that men talk about how they feel, and not to resort to substance misuse, internalising their emotional issues and turning to suicide.

Some of you may know the Movember Foundation. Every November, males are encouraged to grow a moustache to raise awareness for males and mental health and to help males to seek help and treatment and not to turn to prematurely ending their lives. It’s important to encourage men to talk about their feelings, to encourage men to seek psychiatric help and to break down stigmas attached to males and talking about their feelings.

Here is a link to their site: https://uk.movember.com/

In summary, men suffer from mental illness, but many do not seek treatment, due to stigma, social norms and alexithymia. Instead, men turn to substance misuse, which worsens their mental illness. Without seeking appropriate help, many men turn to suicide. It’s important that men feel supported to be able to talk about their feelings. Work is being done to break down stigma and to create awareness for the mental health of men, including the Movember Challenge, which looks to raise awareness and funds for research to support men faced with serious physical and mental health issues.

I hope you have found the blog of some help. Remember: it’s a journey. It will take time. Have patience in the process. You will get there. Until then, stay happy, stay healthy, and have a lovely weekend wherever you are on the planet.

And remember: love yourself. 

References:

Cambule, L. (2014). “Man up”? Getting more “men” in mental health. Available: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/man-up-getting-more-men-in-mental-health/#.WmKLYNIS-ig. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

Campbell, N. (2016). MEN NEED TO BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. HERE’S WHY.. Available: http://www.takethis.org/2016/09/men-need-to-be-able-to-talk-about-their-mental-health-issues-heres-why/. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). (2013). Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men.. Rockville, MD: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 56.

Counselling Directory. (2018). Key statistics about men and mental health. Available: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/men-and-mental-health-stats.html. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

Henriques, G. (2014). Why Is It So Hard for Some Men to Share Their Feelings?. Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201411/why-is-it-so-hard-some-men-share-their-feelings. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

Movember Foundation. (2018). Movember Foundation. Available: https://uk.movember.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjw6-_eBRBXEiwA-5zHaQlHDsRRVxRESzvPaEj7be-PkdzjjtW6k-cEP13sqOU5kNNeqh0FghoCVcEQAvD_BwE. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

The Samaritans. (2012). Men, Suicide and Society. . Available: http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Men%20and%20Suicide%20Research%20Report%20210912.pdf. Last accessed 3rd November 2019.

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A bit about the author:

I am a guy who is (nearly) 40, who is sharing a journey of weight management and wellbeing.I am also a mental health professional with a wealth of years of experience in supporting individuals who have challenging mental illnesses and personality disorders.

Prior to my current professional role, I spent several years supporting members of the community as a fitness professional, assisting individuals with weight loss and health improvement programmes.

I completed a PGDip in Mental Health Nursing in 2013, and an MSc in Advanced Practice in 2016 in which I looked at improving nurses’ level of engagement with patients with challenging personality disorders.

In 2018 I successfully undertook a Clinical reasoning in Physical Assessments course with the view to start studying toward becoming an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in late 2019.

In 2015 I also undertook a Mentorship for practice (BSc Hons) course and have been supporting future nurses with their training and development. I have also recently supported a Healthcare Assistant Staff toward training in and successfully passing and achieving a Foundation Degree in Mental Health Nursing.

In my current role I am a person looking to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the individual. As part of my role within the health services in supporting individuals with mental health care needs, I am also currently looking to develop myself as a Wellness Coach, to support the individual with weekly wellness blogs, with the view to support individuals on a 1:1 basis as well as holding motivational lectures and seminars.

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