Updated: Jun 14, 2019
When Saul first asked me to write for Eat Clean Get Lean I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. Mental health is a passion of mine and I want to spread the word of manageable little ways we can all change our day to day lives to ensure we stay mentally well. I thought about all of the amazing inspirational stories I could share and the excellent self-help tips that we could all use, and...and...
And then I read on Facebook about another local man who ended his life this week. As with hearing any similar story, I felt an anxious pain in my chest, a pit of emptiness in my stomach, and thoughts turned towards the sadness I felt for the family and friends of the man involved. It hurts to imagine the pain he must have being going through for this to happen.
My thoughts turned back to writing, but the above reflections left me considering whether I was prepared to go on with this blog. But no, this is exactly when and why I must speak. We have got to do something about male suicide.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, with 3 times more men completing suicide than women, yet women have double the amount of common mental illnesses.
How can this be? Are we really facing a male suicide every 2 hours in the UK, yet none of them are having symptoms of depression?
Unfortunately, it's deeper than that.
Men are 38% less likely to go to a doctor for any reason, 26% less likely for a mental health reason, and only 18% of males who end their own life went to seek help from a doctor or other professional prior to their death.
That's such a tiny amount. 18 per cent. I had to know more about what it is stopping men from seeking help and after even a small amount of research, memories of my own childhood made it all seem so obvious.
You see, first of all, big boys don't cry. Or at least that's what we're told. As children, lads are told to get up and brush it off or to stop being a pussy or a girl like these are the worst things in the world. We're socialised to see superheroes being these all powerful and dominant creatures, and when they're upset about something they fight their way out of it rather than express their emotions in any other way. As teenagers, we pride ourselves on how strong and hard we are and outcast those who show that they are upset, often considering them weak. Parents also use less emotion-related words with their boys than their girls, leaving some men without the words to explain how things are going, particularly when they are feeling low. And once all of this has taken ahold of our growing brains, once we're convinced that real men are stoic and indestructible, many men have only one emotion left that they're allowed to use. Anger.
In trying to make ourselves out to be ultra strong, we actually become weaker. Instead of talking, some men feel more able to show anger or turn to drugs and alcohol, preferring this to counselling or using psychoactive medications such as antidepressants.
Again, this compounds the problems as alcohol and most common recreational drugs are depressants, and showing anger or aggression is often treated with punishment rather than support. Since these are the ways that men often show that they are not feeling ok, they don't recognise it as potential signs of depression, and in many cases, neither do their doctors.
I don't want to speak for all males as, obviously, not every person is the same but for myself and for many males I have worked with, I know this is a true story. I also don't want to lecture you on how to live, behave, or act. What I do want to say, however, is this:
If you're a man, you are allowed to feel any emotion. It's ok not to be ok.
If you're a friend of a man, reach out and listen. It's ok to ask how someone is feeling.
If you're a parent of a boy, consider the language you use. It's ok for boys to cry.
If you're a human being, talk. We're social creatures and it's ok to connect.
If you need support, there is help. Support options have been posted below this article and it's ok to reach out.
There is nothing I hate more than the feeling I had when I read that facebook post and I don't want to feel it again. We can be the generation that changes those harrowing statistics around suicide and it can take as little as being there for each other or speaking out when you’re struggling. Mental health awareness week showed that those footballers we looked up to as kids can be be just as fragile as every one of us, no matter how they were portrayed on TV in the past.
I'm sorry to labour the point but the question in the title must be asked again. Is your masculinity damaging your mental health?
If it is and if you’re like me, it might be difficult to make that first step and ask for help. But if you do eventually reach out, like I did, it might be the first step towards a happier life.
Matthew Burgess works for a wellbeing and resilience support program for adolescents and is starting a men's wellbeing group with Dover Athletic Football Club Community Trust, starting from 3rd July 2019, 5-6pm. Please feel free to contact the below Twitter to find out more.
This article has a fully referenced version available for those interested in any of the research behind the points made.
If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to make contact on Twitter: @BlogBlackDog
If you require immediate support regarding your mental health and wellbeing, the following options are available:
Samaritans: email - email@example.com
Call - 116 123
CALM: Call - 0800 58 58 58
Mind: Visit here to find information about various support services - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/#.XQFvFCXTUlQ