Why Men Should Talk About how They're Feeling

We need to try and get more men to talk about their mental health. We've made a start, but more needs to be done.

There is an unspoken problem that is affecting men up and down the country. It’s causing health problems, and unspeakable pain to a number of men that in many ways is unknown. It’s not an epidemic of a disease or virus, it is men’s mental health issues. When it comes to talking about how we feel on the inside, us men are our own worst enemy. We come from a generation whose parents came home from fighting in world wars, and were just expected to ‘get on with it’.

We have seen changes in parenting styles over the last few decades, as the Victorian ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude to emotion has slowly been replaced with a more conventional way of thinking. The reality is, however that we still have a long way to go and the fact the suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45. Depression, anxiety and stress affects many of us, and the best way to begin overcoming these problems is to start a conversation.

At present, the silence of men is echoing up and down the country, but we have seen moves to improve things. Charities like the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) are stepping in to try and get men to feel more comfortable about seeking help when it comes to feeling a bit down, or feeling anxious. Changing attitudes is a difficult thing to overcome, as there is no quick fix to changing the way we think.

What is required is for prominent figures to come forward, and challenge the idea that men should internalise their problems. The recent news from Prince Harry, and his own he struggles following the death of his mother has helped in bringing the importance of conversations around mental health issues to the public eye. In some part of the male psyche there is an aversion to showing any kind of weakness, and this is having a subsequent effect on both the physical and mental side of men’s health.

Again, people are working to change the conversation. The actor Samuel L Jackson has been a champion for the men’s health charity One For The Boys, whose main goal is to encourage more men to visit their doctor when they’re aware that some aspect of their health isn’t right. People like Jackson, famed for playing macho roles, are perfect for showing men that it’s okay to seek help when it’s needed, though this particular campaign has been more geared towards physical health and cancer, rather than mental health.

It is therefore the role of ordinary men to speak to their Dads, sons, brothers, uncles, friends and colleagues about mental health. We need to make a concentrated effort to let other men know that it’s okay to look for help when you aren’t feeling yourself, or you’re having dark thoughts. If this isn’t part of the conversation, then we’re doomed to repeat the cycle. When men and boys know that looking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or a social no-no, we can move toward treating mental health problems with the respect they deserve.

Part of this comes from creating role models, and changing the perception of manliness within the public eye. The likes of Prince Harry and Samuel L Jackson are a good, diverse starting point, but we need to see more famous men challenging us to talk when we need to. Our parents grew up with the strong silent types on their TV screens and on the football pitch. You’d never see John Wayne having a heart to heart in one of his Westerns. And you’d be hard pressed to find an interview with George Best about what drove his alcohol addiction.

If the charities mentioned in this articles, and other organisations who are promoting awareness around men’s mental health issues find their champions, I believe we’ll be well on our way to affecting how the everyday man on the street chooses to deal with anxiety and stress, as well as the many other issues men are susceptible to facing.

If we can encourage that conversation in the pub, after 5-a-sides, or over a coffee, we can hopefully see less people willing to take their own lives over seeking help. We have to try to change things for the better for men.

Published on 16-May-2017

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