Did you know that men accounted for three-quarters of UK deaths by suicide in 2018?1 Mental health is a taboo subject amongst many men, not helped by outdated views that men must remain strong and not show any signs of weakness. As the Mental Health Foundation say: “Societal expectations, that is, the ways in which men and women have been traditionally expected to behave may play a role in mental health”.2
With Movember, the leading charity changing the face of men’s health, saying “globally, on average, 1 man dies by suicide every minute of every day”3, we’re hearing from our health experts on what can be done to help reduce this alarming statistic. They offer their own personal experiences with mental health and offer their top tips on getting that conversation started.
What do you do to look after your mental health?
From taking time out to do what you enjoy to exercise, there’s a range of ways our team of physiologists try to look after their mental health.
Adam Aspbury, Health and Wellbeing Programme Manager, said: “Taking time to do the things I enjoy is a huge part for me, but I also try to identify situations that might be stressful for example, so I can prepare.” Something that is echoed by Alex Read, he feels “having an evening off” if he’s had a bad day is a good way to look after himself.
For Dan Craig, Senior Physiologist, it’s exercise that he relies upon to help him “feel good”. “As time has gone on, as I’ve understood my own mental health, I realise now that being physically active is super important for my mental wellbeing too. A 45-minute brisk walk outdoors each morning and afternoon is a staple.”
Tom Rothwell, Programme Lead Physiologist, agrees. “Going to the gym is a big stress reliver for me, I find I can really switch myself off and come out feeling better.”
Focusing on the future and looking forward to things is a technique that Elliot Moore, Senior Physiologist, uses to better his mental health. He said: “I like to have plans for the week and for the future, things to do in my own time that make me feel productive or like I have done something for myself such as a hobby or some DIY; as well as a longer-term focus like a holiday or weekend away to look forward to.”
Have there been times when you haven’t spoken to others about your mental health?
A 2019 study by Time to Change, found that “only a quarter of men would openly tell their male friends if they were struggling with their mental health, with the majority preferring to make up an excuse, or give another reason.”4
Dave Williams, Senior Health and Wellbeing Programme Manager, said he would keep quiet about it, “up until my very late 20s”.
“I never used to talk about my mental health, in particular my thoughts and feelings if I was struggling, as I viewed it as a sign of weakness. It was only when I met my wife that I started to change as a person and realised it’s ok to talk about your mental health to others”
It’s hard for some to identify why they keep it inside rather than confide in others. For George Hucker, Health and Wellbeing Programme Manager, he notices two main themes. He said: “For me, talking about something makes it more ‘real’, when it’s not talked about I can try and pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not a problem.
“The other, is not wanting others to then worry about me. I convince myself to deal with things on my own and in my own way.” This is something Time for Change echo, in their study they also found that 42% of the men asked said they didn’t want to seem like a burden to their friends.
Sam Brazier, Junior Physiologist, said: “The first time I properly talked about it, was the hardest but also the best as it was a huge weight off my shoulders. It then becomes easier to talk to people from there and allows others to open up to you too! Knowing that you aren’t alone is a real benefit.”
Top tips on how to talk about mental health
The main point that echoes through from our team of experts is that talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and taking steps to become better, like you would for your physical health.
1. Stay connected – whether it’s a friend, family member or even a colleague, having regular catch ups with people you trust makes it easier to talk if your mental health needs some help. These people already know you, so opening up can become easier and you may even find it gives someone else in your friendship group or family the confidence to speak up too.
2. Find a way that works for you – many of those in our team of physiologists say that by approaching it with the mindset that you’re having an informal chat, simply talking about how you’re feeling right now and what you’re thinking, can help get the conversation started.
3. Know there is help out there – if talking to someone close to you just isn’t an option, then there are local support groups, online advice, helplines that you can call, workplace programmes and services that your GP can put you in touch with. There’s a wealth of support so you don’t have to suffer in silence.
4. Make time to self-reflect – stop and take the time to figure out what it is that is affecting your mental health. Is there anything you can do to help relieve it? Mind says: “Consider what are your weapons in this fight (i.e. the ways you combat poor mental health) – it could be anything from regular exercise to spending time with friends”.5
You might find that once you’ve pinpointed the cause and you’ve tried a few ways to help lessen it you’re then more able to talk to others about it; even ask for tips on what they do to help improve their mental wellbeing.
How to help someone open up
It can be difficult to know what to say when you’re the person someone has turned to, and equally difficult to know how to open up the channels of communication when you can see someone struggling.
Here are some tips on how to broach the subject and how to be a good listener:
- Ask twice. How many times have we said ‘fine’ when someone has asked us how we are? If we can see someone struggling, ask them again. It shows that we genuinely care about that person’s wellbeing and you’re not just asking for the sake of making conversation.
- Listen. Sounds simple but by just listening and not offering a solution it can help that person offload freely, without any judgement.
- Comfort. Some people struggle with talking face-to-face, especially when they’re talking about their feelings. Instead create a more comfortable environment and suggest going for a walk or sitting side-by-side, so it becomes less intense.
Find more tips on how to kick-start the conversation from our Health at Hand team
6 out of 10 suicides are men. Barriers around mental health need to be broken, as Alex Read said: “Don’t dwell on it or sit on it, if something’s bothering you it needs to come out and the earlier the better. Would you speak about a similar situation around physical health? View mental health on the same level.”
Mental health support services
Our Health at Hand team of nurses, midwives and pharmacists provide round-the-clock telephone support for AXA Health members concerned about their or their family’s health. Each member of the team is professionally qualified in their field and specially trained to hold effective conversations about health matters.
Other services that can provide support are:
- The Samaritans – available to phone all day, every day on 116 123
- Shout – text service available all year-round. Text ‘Shout’ to 85258
- Mind – advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
- NHS Mental Health and Wellbeing – support on all types of mental health issues and illnesses.
Mental health centre – AXA Health