Our team always go all out to generate lots of helpful advice, resources or inspiring stories to share with people throughout the week, to fit with the Mental Health Foundation’s theme. This year the theme is body image, which is a tough one and very specific.
The added pressure at an already busy period can start to cause serious stress, which is a negative impact on my mental health (we did win an award for our efforts in 2017 though).
We all have mental health, whether it’s good or bad. It’s the same as physical health. I had something of an ignorance about the term a few years ago, but my opinion on the meaning has changed – hopefully I can yours to change too.
I recently attended a suicide prevention campaign launch and heard something that really hit the nail on the head around stigma. It was from a poem by JB Barrington:
"If I was sat here with a broken leg you'd offer to fetch my beer from the bar, but you see me with a broken head so you mumble down into your beer from afar."
This year I was invited to a men’s mental health session for staff by the counsellor who ran a mindfulness course I went on. The aim was to make us feel more able to discuss mental health difficulties and know where to seek help.
To start the session we chucked around some things we find help our mental health. The suggestions varied from watching football, playing football, bouldering, building models with the kids, choir singing, listening to music, a digital ban and using a ‘phone park’ drawer at home.
Then we looked at some pretty harrowing stats:
- Male suicide rates are three times higher than women. In 2017, 4,383 men took their own life. That’s roughly one every two hours.
- Men are three times more likely to become alcohol dependant and more likely to use (and die from) illegal drugs.
- Men are less likely to access talking therapies and less likely to talk to friends and family about their mental health.
We chatted about why that is, and in summary it was down to this stereotypical ‘man of the house’ image; the provider, hunter-gather, carrier of all responsibilities, who feels the need to bottle everything away. Which is a very harmful thing to do.
It reminded me of another poignant quote from the suicide campaign launch, this time from an ex-rugby league player and real man’s man:
In summary he said that a man is more of a man if he asks for help than if he doesn’t.
Our discussion also noted that it’s tougher now than ever to switch off. There’s social media and mobile phones, a change in communities and social values, more pressure to succeed. Even the TV stays on past midnight.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to reach out the people close to you, who might be struggling. Look closely for any signs, sometimes those who seem to be doing best are actually wearing a mask.
There’s no harm in double-checking. Be straight and ask them how they’re doing, particularly if you’re worried someone might be having suicidal thoughts. I found myself checking in on someone not long after the session.
While it's important that we all start open conversations with each other, there is help out there. Speak to your GP, and ask for an urgent appointment if need be, or refer yourself to the local IAPT (improving access to psychological therapies) service.
Sometimes the waiting lists can be several weeks but, as the counsellor running the session pointed out, you can always go private – think of it as a valuable investment in your mental health.
There’s also lots useful contacts and organisations that are a lifeline, such as Samaritans, Mind and the Hub of Hope.
Use the final days of Mental Health Awareness Week as an excuse to start having these conversations. But keep them going all year round.
As for me, I’m taking away an important message to keep going with the things that improve my mental mental health. And I’m making a note to start our awareness week planning in February next year!