Why is Men’s Health Week important?

Men’s Health Week is a way to breakdown that myth and bring to light the reality of the situation and encourage men to speak up. There is a myth that men don’t have mental health issues. Even in 2020 men are supposed to be seen as pillars of masculinity and strength. That they don’t feel or have feelings, or that any sign of emotion is seen as a weakness.

Talking about your mental health does not make you weak or less of a man. Talking about your feelings does not make you inferior and does not give anyone the right to ridicule you. You are no less worthy of a human being just because you are suffering.

According to Samaritans, in 2018 suicide rates were higher in men aged 45-49 in the UK and 55-65 in the Republic of Ireland. Men are 3 times are more likely to take their own lives than women. It’s a horrible thing to talk about but it needs talking about. And I’ve been there.

I have been at the edge of my life questioning what my worth is. In those moments I felt numb. A nothingness. People may think that it’s something that’s done in the moment, that a life is taken carelessly and without thought, when in reality it’s often a long time coming. You’ve been taking in the world around you and sometimes it feels like the world is putting too much onto you and not taking enough off of you to ease your burden.

After seeking help and talking with someone about this and telling them that everyday felt pointless, they helped me. Through conversation and discussion, I found therapy to be a wonderful experience that provided me with the tools to support my condition. Not every day is perfect and sometimes I do fall back into those dark places, but I have the skills and people behind me to put myself in a much healthier place.

Do you think men find it harder to ask for help?

Absolutely. To some people even the notion of asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. It’s seen as a feminine trait and that by asking for help you’re less of a man. I have to (awkwardly) laugh at that because females aren’t weak. I’m surrounded by strong, intelligent women in both my professional and personal life and I’m seeing them manage their careers, their homes, their children and their social lives all with a smile on their face.

I personally feel they can only do this because they have strong women around them who they can rely on to talk to and to get support from. They’ve come from strong women who taught them that it’s ok to cry and it’s ok to ask for help and support. And there’s nothing stopping men from doing this. Talk to your friends about your mental health when you’re feeling low. Let them know and ask for their help, it will not emasculate you.

How do you practice self-care?

I have many, MANY self-care practices:

  • Meditation. Early in the morning I’ll seat myself comfortably in my living room with the curtains wide open and the sun shining through. I’ll have Alexa play some soft meditation music as I focus on my breathing. This can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour but afterwards I feel like I’ve gained a day back. I’ll often do this in the evening too to help settle me down and help clear the day from my mind.
  • Do nothing. I will literally have a day once every 3-4 weeks where I will do nothing that is mentally stimulating. I may sit and watch TV all day or listen to music and just be. There’s a lot of pressure that you have to be productive in your downtime, and for some people that’s ok. But for some of us, doing absolutely nothing helps to rest the mind as well as the body.
  • Literary escapism. A firm favourite to help me through the day comes from my bookshelf. Reading a good book can put you in someone else’s world. Whether it’s the Wizarding World or the world of Agatha Christie, reading can bring out so many good feelings with character developments and plot twists that leave you feeling all the better for being there.
  • Putting pen to paper. Whether it’s a literal pen or a keyboard, I find writing down whatever is on my mind helps me to collect my thoughts and put them in order. I have notebooks in almost every room in my house to pen my consciousness. I have a small notebook by my bed and often when I can’t sleep I will write down my thoughts and after that I sleep through the night.
  • Go for walkies. We take our dogs out because they need to do their business but also because they get to have some fun and fresh air. So why shouldn’t we?

Find what works for you and make it part of your weekly if not daily routine to find your inner calm and your psychological balance.

How can friends and family help start conversations around mental health?

To be frank, I feel like it’s a giant burden for some people to start these conversations. I believe a lot people feel they don’t have the skills to help their loved ones with their mental health and that by opening the floodgate they may feel responsible for someone’s well-being. And I even ask myself “how do you start the conversation” because by simply sitting down and asking someone may feel clinical and forced, which some people may not feel comfortable with. But sometimes it’s the best, if not only, method.

I guess all I can say is, to parents with young children, please create those moments where you and your children are open about your feelings. Create a safe space where they feel no fear of punishment or ridicule. And if and when they share these feelings with you, praise them for doing so and do not share with others, including friends and family. They’ve trusted you with their privacy and you need to respect that else before long they will withhold this information from you.

For parents with teenagers, I assure they’re already talking about this with their friends and on social media but they still need you. Being open about your own mental health and well-being will let them know it’s normal, whatever that is. In time they may start talking about their own mental health with you. Invest your time in asking them about how they’re doing in general, outside of school and work. Take an interest in their interests and don’t put too much pressure on them to be perfect.

When it comes to speaking with adults, it’s a lot easier. Just ask. Get clinical. Even if the response is “I’m fine”, ask again in a couple of days. And ask again. And again. And again. By continually asking it will chip away a tough exterior and will get through to them. Talk about your own mental health and ask them for advice and support. Let them know that you trust them and that that trust and support is there for them when they need it.

I personally just go for it. I will ask my friends and family how they’re doing almost every day and will invest my time in what they’re telling me. If they feel good, I will celebrate their good feelings. If they’re feeling low, my focus is theirs and we talk about everything that is making them feel that way. I do this because I would never wish for anyone to feel the way I feel when I’m in a bad mental space.

Has the University helped support you in any way?

The university has a lot of measure in place for staff well-being. We have an amazing well-being champion in our department, who is the first person I will go to for those life chats. I trust her because she’s wiser that she’ll ever know and has that knowledge and experience that others in my department don’t. And that’s not to say they’re not good, supportive people. My managers have always said to me that if I needed a to talk to them or to take a moment away from my desk, I was always able to approach them. They’ve given me advice on the Employee Assistance Programme and have even suggested we talk about mental health more openly as a team so that they better understand what it’s like for people like me.