I grew up in the 90s and looking back, the whole landscape is completely different to what we know today on men’s mental health. Personally, my experience was of quite rigid gender roles. Trucks and fighting were for boys, Barbies and dresses were for girls. Crying and talking about feelings were for girls. Being a ‘man’ meant having a stiff upper lip.
Luckily, things have moved on over time – but we’re not quite there yet.
With the rise of social media and social commentary, there has been a spate of high-profile on men’s mental health such as male suicides, including Linkin Park’s frontman Chester Bennington and most recently, Love Island Star Mike Thassilitis. What is heartbreaking about these deaths is that many close family members and friends reportedly did not even realise that they were struggling.
The fact is: depression, anxiety and all manner of mental health issues have different faces. Just think about the lovely Robin Williams.
Encouraging men to open up
It’s no secret that although things are getting better, there is still a stigma regarding men’s mental health and some men feel uncomfortable talking about their emotions. Brilliant campaigns now exist such as Movember and Man Up, committed to changing the face of men’s health and wellbeing, but there is still work to be done.
I remember once speaking to a male friend who was grieving following a breakup, who began tearing up. He apologised profusely, although I said it was completely fine. He began having a conversation with himself, telling himself to “get a grip”, before leaving the room to compose himself. He came back and completely changed the subject although I tried to have him open up. To me, that was unhealthy as I felt he was bottling his emotions up.
Implore, don’t ignore
It’s brilliant that the landscape is changing. When Prince William and Prince Harry began talking openly about their own mental health challenges, it was incredible. One by one, more revered men are coming forward and openly addressing mental health: footballers, politicians, actors – showing that anyone can be affected by it. These men are not weak, or failing by speaking out. In fact, they are the brave ones.
A strong narrative around supporting mental health for men is the act of ‘checking in’ and paying attention. Face to face, via text or social media, just asking if someone is okay, going for a coffee or kicking a ball about – and simply persevering – can go a long way.
Call your friends. Send a text. Snapchat, if that’s your thing. Let them know you’re thinking about them. It could make all the difference.
In terms of men who are struggling, it’s worth exploring why it is uncomfortable asking for help and whether those reasons are actually stopping you from getting the support needed.
Finally, if men still feel apprehensive about discussing emotions with their peers, friends or family, then they have another option: discussing their mental wellbeing with a third party. If you are struggling emotionally, whatever gender you are, speak to Mind or The Samaritans for free, 24/7.
No one needs to ‘grin and bear it’.