With thanks to Louise Leighton - MNCS Accred, for providing this blog.
Why do over half of our male population, here in the UK, either not know how to, or feel they can’t ask for support?
This is a question I have asked myself many times as a mother (to a son and daughter), a wife, and in my role as a counsellor. I have always worked with men during my career, when I was a junior in an office, when I worked in a car dealership, plus other roles and now as a counsellor. I have witnessed men using avoidance techniques to limit emotion talk, ways such as humour, sarcasm, flirting, or changing the subject. You have probably come across this too, but not been aware.
Why do they do this? Why do we enable the behaviour instead of questioning or challenging?
In answer to the above, men behave this way as it is modelled to them by family and society at a young age. As for enabling the behaviour and not questioning, again this is what is taught by family and society, for both of these things to change, we need to raise awareness about mental ill health in general, especially in young boys, adolescent males and adult men.
Men really do have it hard when it comes to emotions, what with pressure, feeling judged, prejudice thoughts, old sayings such as ‘man-up’, ‘real men don’t cry’ or ‘be a proper man, a man’s man’. It’s no wonder that men don’t talk about how they are feeling, let alone let it out. Some men even find it hard to admit that they have feelings at all.
All this confusion and avoidance does not only impact on the men, it has a wider effect on their relationships with partners and their families. Behaviours and beliefs are usually passed down from generation to generation and we can all make a conscious choice to continue this cycle or to make changes. However, to do this we need to be aware of the effects and impacts of our values, core beliefs and behaviours. This means becoming self-aware and then working towards putting what we have learnt in to practice.
When a man doesn’t show his emotions - to his male friends he may feel and be seen as strong, bold and manly. To the women in his life he might be seen as emotionless, unloving or cold.
When a man connects with emotions - around his male friends, he might feel and be seen as weak, pathetic, out of control, leaving him feeling vulnerable. To the women in his life he may be seen as loving and warm, but he might then feel vulnerable. Confusing right?
Sometimes when our men do let their guard down and ask for support or breakdown with emotion, the women and/or men in their life can sometimes find this difficult and not know how to support him. The man’s vulnerability is then compounded and he closes off again and goes unsupported. This can lead to further feelings of frustration, isolation and confusion. The more this goes unspoken the higher the likelihood of more severe mental health issues, such as depression or potentially leading to suicide.
What can we do?
Men need us to be strong for them, the way they are often strong for us. Support them to be able to express their emotion and deal with it. Let them know that crying or feeling emotional is not a weakness. Talking to each other and making mental health a topic that is not taboo. We all need support at times and the more open a couple can be with each other, the closer you will feel to each other emotionally.
The more men talk about mental health with each other as friends and colleagues, the easier the subject becomes to talk about and the more awareness is raised.
We all need to learn how to really hear someone and really listen when they are talking. Try not to jump in with positivity or be defensive, give each other time to talk and then time for you both to respond to each other. We also need to look for what is not being said, sometimes a little push is all it takes. Just like when Roman Kemp said “ask a friend if they are OK, then, ask them again”. This was part of his BBC three documentary ‘our silent emergency’. #asktwice.
We also need to learn to recognise changes in their behaviour, signs that something is different from their normal. Some potential changes/signs might be;
Anger, irritability or aggressiveness - when we feel vulnerable this can be expressed as irritation or anger, not wanting to accept we have an issue, so when pushed we lash out. Anger is a perfectly normal emotion, however, it is usually a reaction to something else going on and can worsen leading to aggressive behaviour and/or rage.
Changes in their usual mood, energy levels and appetite - being quiet for example. Men’s brains are wired to be very solution focussed. With this is mind, they can often retreat inside their own mind to solve the problem, however, not knowing how to solve it, leads to this quiet and avoidant behaviour. The opposite can also happen, becoming overly excited. Sometimes this happens again because of avoidance, they want to appear as being happy and in control, however it is a distraction technique to escape what is really happening inside their mind.
Other symptoms include (but are not limited to):
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
Increased worry or feeling stressed
Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
Changes to physical health - headaches, nausea, digestive problems
Thoughts or behaviours that interfere with work, family or social life
I recently created a short 9 question survey. This was in preparation for writing this piece, as I wanted to collate my own up to date and relevant research. The results below are from men in March 2021. The survey was shared across various platforms to enable as much diversity as possible whilst remaining anonymous. I would like to thank all the men that completed the survey, they were really honest and shared some comments with me about their mental health at various times in their life. I haven’t shared the comments anywhere as it felt disrespectful. However, I will say that I was saddened to read some of them and know that these men are suffering silently and might continue to do so for a very long time if something doesn’t change.
Below I have listed a few of the questions and answers, you can find the full results on my website.
Q3 - Do you find it easy to allow yourself to feel your emotions and express them?
Yes - 10% No - 42% Sometimes - 44% Other - 4%
Q4 - Do you feel that crying and/or being emotional is a weakness?
Yes - 12% No - 60% Maybe - 21% Other - 7%
Q7 - Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your issues and needed to talk about them but you didn’t?
Yes - 77% No - 21% Other - 2%
Q8 - Have you ever felt suicidal?
Yes - 52% No - 45% Other - 3%
Just from sharing these few questions, you can see that, from the men that responded, outwardly saying that they don’t see emotions as a weakness and yet only 10% can fully let themselves feel and show their emotions. Over half have felt suicidal at some point in their life and a massive 77% saying that they have felt overwhelmed.
Below are some statistics I found whilst researching men’s mental health, which I feel are important to share. In my opinion the statistics below and the results from my survey are still showing a shocking result when it comes to men and their mental health; something needs to change and quickly.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it will help the men reading this to seek support and feel they are not alone, and for the supporters of men reading this, to know that they can help and there is support for you too, whether this is for your own mental health or support to help a male family member, friend or colleague.
With thanks to Louise Leighton - MNCS Accredited for providing this blog. Louise is a qualified Humanistic counsellor and her core approach is person-centred. She works with individuals in a variety of areas, such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, family problems and bereavement. She also has a particular interest in men’s mental health. Find out more: http://www.acaciacounsellingleeds.co.uk
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