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Men Need To Open Up On Mental Health - Then Do Something About It

Simon Binns

| Last updated 

Men Need To Open Up On Mental Health - Then Do Something About It

The debate around male mental health has undoubtedly opened up in the last year or so.

The stigma is dropping away and famous names from sport, music and film have all come forward to talk about their struggles, and how they dealt with depression, anxiety and stress.

But when the talking stops, what happens then?

Many experts working in mental health worry that there's still a reticence to go and find help, even after the admission that someone is struggling.

There's no sugar-coating it. Admitting you need help is a difficult thing to do. It was for me.

I went to see the doctor, and as I sat in the waiting room, I realised that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say to him.

Do I say I feel depressed? Tired? Angry? Sad? Will I sound...silly?

As we relaunch UOKM8?, LADbible wants to give men practical and positive solutions to get help, find people and places they can turn to, and start the road to recovery.

To be blunt - stress is a killer. Especially when it comes to men.

Recent statistics from the Office For National Statistics (ONS) show that in 2017, there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK - 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people.

The UK male suicide rate of 15.5 deaths per 100,000 was the lowest since data started to be collected, in 1981 - but it was still more than three times higher than the rate for female.

In fact, men accounted for three-quarters of all suicides registered in 2017 (4,382), a stat that hasn't changed since the mid-1990s.

The highest age-specific suicide rate was 24.8 deaths per 100,000 among males aged 45 to 49 years - but there are other alarming numbers to pick over.

In every age range - from the youngest (10-14), the number of men killing themselves was higher than women. In some cases, more than five times higher (25-29).

The rate of male suicide among 20-24 year-olds was more than double that of females, and more than three times higher in 30-34 year-olds.

The most common method of suicide was hanging, suffocation or strangulation in more than half of all suicides among men. The second most common method of suicide was poisoning.

"Generally, higher rates of suicide among middle-aged males in recent years might be due to this group being more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and isolation," says the report.

"Furthermore, it could be that this group are less inclined to seek help."

That resistance - or fear - of asking for help is claiming lives. And it has to stop.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, told LADbible that trying to find that help early is crucial.

"Campaigns like UOKM8? have the potential to help us continue to shift attitudes surrounding mental health," he said.

"More of us than ever are coming forward to seek help for our mental health, thanks in part to things like Time to Change, the anti-stigma movement backed by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

"But we know that lots of people still find it difficult to open up when they're struggling with their mental health.

"Bottling things up, as lots of us might do, can make things worse, so it's good to speak to someone you trust - such as a friend, partner, co-worker or family member - as early as you can. It might be easier to speak to a mate in a familiar setting you feel comfortable with - such as after playing sports or down the pub. Even just acknowledging that you need help with a problem is a good start."

Stress is still a huge factor affecting men, and one that can lead to serious mental health issues - but it's something many still seem unable to confront. Historical 'man up' attitudes or the feeling that a man's job is to 'protect' his family or loved ones from stress, and absorb it all silently, still persist.

Newly published results from a survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation show that fewer than one in four (24%) of men who have felt high levels of stress discussed this with a friend or family member.

The survey findings also revealed that men were more likely to turn to alcohol as a result of high stress levels, with almost one in three men in the UK (31%) reporting that they had started drinking alcohol or increased the amount of alcohol they drank.

Men were also twice as likely as women to start using illegal drugs when feeling stressed.

Overall, two in three men in the UK (67%) said that they felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

One in three have (29%) experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of feeling stressed.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "It's worrying to see that men are still very unlikely to open up to a family member or a friend when feeling under stress. While stress isn't a mental health problem in itself, it often leads to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. Some of the ways that men are dealing with stress - such as alcohol and drugs - can often intensify underlying feelings.

"We need to address how men in our society are expected to cope when they feel under pressure. We all have responsibility to shift the culture and talk to the men in our lives."

The foundation recently launched a fundraising event Curry & Chaat - where men can get together with friends over some Indian food and raise money for the charity.

But getting over that first hurdle is key - and it can often be a huge mental barrier.

Mind has produced a guide - 'Find the Words' - to help you prepare for the short time you get with your GP.

For me, I just decided that I'd come as far as the doctor's surgery, so I might as well be honest.

I just told him that I didn't really know why I felt so sad and that I didn't know how to change it. But that I knew it was a problem and that the people around me were starting to suffer because of it.

I didn't feel embarrassed. I actually felt relieved.

He signed me off work for two weeks, prescribed some medication - which I took for around a year - and gave me some advice on places I could look for help and lifestyle changes that might help.

Swapping the pub for gym was a good start.

Buckley has some practical advice for men who want to take that first step.

"If you've been struggling with your mental health for more than two weeks, or your symptoms keep returning, it's best to see your GP, who can talk you through available treatment options if needed," he says.

"Depending on the nature of the problems you're experiencing, they might refer you to talking therapies, or help you find medication that might be useful.

"They might even prescribe exercise and other self-care techniques. Because everyone's needs vary, and most people respond best to a combination of different things, it's really important that your GP offers you a wide range of options."

The bottom line is we need to keep talking about mental health - to our friends, family, GPs, whoever. But those conversations have to lead somewhere.

Otherwise, each year will bring another report full of statistics that could so easily have been reduced, or even eradicated.

And that's what we really want to be talking about.

UOKM8? is a campaign by LADbible, featuring films and stories that provide advice and inspiration on mental health. Explore More Here and don't suffer in silence. Let's talk mental health.

MIND: 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans: 116 123.

CALM: Outside London 0808 802 5858, inside London 0800 58 58 58.

Topics: UOKM8

Simon Binns
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