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Men are now almost three times more likely to see a therapist than in 2009, according to Mind’s ‘Get it off your chest’ study.  This is a move in the right direction although, according to numerous studies, men continue to struggle with mental health in silence.

Two in five men (43%) admit to regularly feeling worried or low, an increase from 37% in 2009.  And yet, for many men feeling low or worried isn’t deemed important enough to act on. When men do present at their GP surgery, they are more likely to talk about their physical symptoms rather than any emotional symptoms.

10 years ago, the National Mental Health Development Unit highlighted the fact that men face mental health difficulties that differ to those of women. As such, many men don’t display the traditional symptoms of depression (sleepless nights, crying, feeling low) they are more likely to show signs of irritability, anger, hostility, risk taking and escaping behaviours. When untreated, difficulties frequently get worse and are maintained by unhealthy coping mechanisms. Instead of talking about their problems, men watch TV, exercise, gamble, drink alcohol or take other substances and so it goes on. Short term solutions which put off dealing with underlying issues.

In England and Wales, three quarters of all deaths registered as suicide in 2019 were men (4,303); this has been consistent since the mid 1990’s.

In the year 2021, we now know that men and boys have specific mental health needs and there is an ongoing requirement to challenge the wrongly held belief that admitting mental distress makes men weak. 

It is time for men to cultivate a more heroic attitude when it comes to understanding their mental health.  Far from being weak, it takes courage to place yourself in the hands of another; the loss of control, the fear and shame around losing one’s sense of authority can be too much for many men.

But, being a man is much more than a stoic endurance of suffering, self-reliance and an unwillingness to ask for support and we need to develop a different muscle, one that enables us to talk about our concerns; to shift our focus from fixating on performance/failure, to pride in learning about ourselves and personal growth. 

For most men, stigma continues to be a barrier to talking.  It is particularly so for veterans. In the forces, people train to cope and it’s instilled in service not to go sick or let people down.  In many ways, the requirements of being in the military are diametrically opposed to taking care of one’s mental health; there is a requirement to be tough to ‘man up,’ or ‘suck it up’, to contain or suppress and ignore one’s emotions to get a job done. The military develops the outer warrior.  This is why many veterans rarely present for support unless in crisis.

In the Tri-Services of Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, men train and prepare so that when the call comes, they are ready to deploy; there maybe anxiety and fear mixed with adrenaline but men have their training to fall back on and trust in each other.  When they return, they are changed by both their sufferings and their achievements.

There is a parallel to be drawn here and it is this: when men receive the call to look at themselves, it comes in the form of symptoms and signs that need to be understood NOT acted out. It is an indication that they may need to explore unknown or undeveloped aspects of themselves and the traumas that come with being men.  For many the vulnerability involved in this can feel far more terrifying than going into battle, not least because colleagues do not ‘have our backs’ and we may feel alone.

Other than eliminating the fear of asking for support, and stepping forward, there are no rules or strategies for engaging with this battle. We are not supposed to know how to do it, we just have to trust the process, respond to the call and begin.         

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