Speaking from experience, I know it can be hard for men to open up and admit when they are struggling emotionally. Even if, when we are told it is “good to talk” by well-meaning celebrities and even us doctors; it can be almost impossible to do so. Especially, when we do not have the words to talk about our troubles. This is despite it affecting every aspect of our lives, our work, our friendships, our relationships with our children and even our relationships with our significant others
The more I see the more I feel that mental health for some men is more of a series of social issues rather than a medical problem. That does not mean to dismiss those challenges that are out there, nor that we as a practice can help. However, it represents what I feel is more likely to help.
I feel that the answers to helping us men out there who are struggling are those treatments focused around the psychological and social aspects of life.
Firstly, I would say there is no one size fits all way to manage or treat mental health issues. Secondly, I consider that mental health is similar to physical health. A person can be fit to run a marathon and another may not. By extension of the comparison, one individual may be able to manage with a series of psychologically distressing events: a recent bereavement, debt issues, a breakdown in a relationship However, another person may not have the mental health reserve to cope with these stressors. It certainly does not mean you are weak. More that you have reached your capacity to cope. It is when this happens that people struggle. It is now when we commonly see the symptoms and signs of mental distress.
The physical symptoms such as, too little or too much sleep, appetite changes and the increased experience of physical pain. These often go with the more recognised symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood swings and the less thought of anger. Unfortunately, this tends to be destructive by pushing those around us away. This only makes things worse by emotionally pushing away our support.
So what can I do that makes a difference?
I think the first thing is to be honest with yourself. Open up and admit that you are struggling, that life, at this moment, is too much and you need help. This does not mean you are weak, far from it. It takes a strong man to admit he needs help and that he does not know all the answers.
The next part and often the most difficult part is opening up to someone you can trust. From my experience and from what my patients have told me; it important to set aside the time to do this. One, because it is hard to put yourself in a vulnerable position. Two, because the words may not come easily.
A helpful way to do this is to go for a walk with the other person. This is because it does not create the pressured environment that a sit down, face to face chat can do. It also allows for long pauses without either of you feeling pressured to speak. You are going for a walk with that person you trust the most.
If you do decide to see us the doctor to see what we can offer that’s great too. Broadly speaking for me this breaks down to “pills” versus “skills.” and within certain limits, the choice is yours. You may be surprised to hear that I often but not always suggest a mix of “skills” “over pills” alone as I feel they are unable to address the underlying cause. That said they could help to lift your mood to allow you to use the skills to develop mental wellbeing.
These options can include, The Living Life Well Programme organised by the health board, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, mediation and exercise. By exercise, I do not mean join a gym, spend £20 + a month and not go. We have all been there; life gets in the way. Rather do things that require less commitment; go for a walk but walk like you are 45 minutes late and then reward yourself after 30 minutes. There are also various options for talking therapies. This is the point in consultation that in my experience men look at me as if I have asked them to play the bagpipes with their nose! In all seriousness if you are able to see how your thoughts, actions and mood all affect one another, then some of these talking therapies may be beneficial to you.
Whether that be through Cruise bereavement counselling, the Cancer Information Services (CIS), Relate, Info-nation if aged 13-25, even your place of work may be able to source these talking therapies for you. This list is certainly not exhaustive. However, if you use the QR boards in the surgery this may provide you with more information. I would even go as far to say tell us what has worked for you so we can advise others of your success.
There are a few things that we all have the potential to do in times of stress, however, the most common of these is to drink more alcohol and I can understand why this happens. At low levels alcohol is a relaxant, however it is certainly not the case that more is always better. I am not here to preach at you because we all know about the harmful effects of alcohol on our physical health. Only to say drinking higher volumes of alcohol leads to it acting as a depressant. This is probably not going to help your mental health meet those challenges ahead
A point that I am sure the social media platforms would dislike but I would ask you to consider; is quitting social media.
Evidence has shown that those people who use social media platforms: showed more signs of depression, have poorer psychological functioning and were less open minded to change. Finally those who avoided social media for one week were happier compared to those who did not. Just a thought… _
In summary my advice would be:
1. Be honest with yourself.
2. Build your support network and ask for help.
3. Be prepared to do the heavy lifting and hard work. It’s going
to take time, think months not days.