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by Kate McLaughlin

Men’s Mental Health

The Burnley Express recently published an article around men’s mental health. The article, which described how ‘millions of men said they are not ok and feel down an average of three times a week was a devastating read but not a surprising one.

Suicide is the leading killer of men aged under 50 whilst the number of men experiencing suicidal thoughts when feeling angry or low has doubled since 2009 and, on average, one man takes his life every two hours in the UK.


Why are men struggling with their mental health?


The natural question to want to ask is ‘why’. We want to analyse, to plan and to fix, and this is indeed a noble aim. But in doing so, we risk seeing statistics instead of people and symptoms instead of human experiences.

As humans, we create meanings out of our experiences, and these have a profound impact on our wellbeing. For example, a pay rise is an objective event, the number written on our pay slip changes, but we embed it with significance. If we achieve one, we are successful, if we are passed over, we are a failure. We may then struggle to pay our bills, which are again objective numbers on a page that we fill with meaning. We may feel we have failed to provide and so our negative sense of self compounds and our distress mounts. Until, therefore, we understand the meanings that events hold for people and see the distress they cause, we put sticking plasters over long neglected wounds.


How are men struggling with their mental health?


The article in the Burnley Express describes several ways that men experience difficulties with their mental health, including anxiety around social situations and stress in the workplace. It was the comments on relationships, however, which give us the biggest insight into the inner tension that men often experience.

According to the report, a third of men feel lonely and 60% feel unable to open up to a close friend or family member, meaning that there are a lot of men who are experiencing a massive sense of disconnect and isolation, as well as a stuckness about their ability to get out of the situation, being filled with worries about what might happen if they do try to open up. Indeed, when asked what their worries are about talking about their difficulties, 20% of respondents said that they don’t want to seem vulnerable and 20% said they want to handle it on their own. This is the centre of the tension. Men feel isolated but are anxious about the two central building blocks of connection and intimacy; vulnerability and reciprocity. Stuck between the pain and fear with limited encouragement or equipping to find a way through, is it any wonder that many men find their distress to be unbearable?


What can we do?


This study was completed in conjunction with Talk Club, who recommended a framework for checking in on your own and your friends wellbeing. This is an excellent start and, for many, may be the first steps on a journey to freedom.

Allow us to recommend a next step, for those who are looking for something a little further. For example, the study reported that the most ‘off topic’ issue is that of fertility problems. This is not something which will be resolved by going to the gym more and it’s exactly here that our meanings are so important. If we try to apply action based techniques to an issue like this, it’s like trying to fix the boiler by tinkering with the radiators. We need to have our meanings heard, something Talk Club also stress as being important. To take the next step in the process, we can use the framework of ‘How, What, Why?’; How are you doing? What made you feel that way? Why did it make you feel like that? Obviously, this can be put into a style that is comfortable for each individual, but the three part framework can give us structure for stepping off into what, for many of us, feels like the unknown. Whether you are in a place to take that first step or have begun your journey and want to develop a real solidity, talking is central to building real connections and listening to each other’s meanings allows us to unlock the doors of our isolation and begin to feel truly ‘OK’.


If you or someone you know is struggling and feel like you need some extra support, we might be able to help. Contact office@jsapsychotherapy.com or call 01282 685345 to find out how we could help.

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