Men’s mental health: Recognising your feelings and seeking help

While one in eight men in England have a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (compared to one in five women), only 36% of referrals to the NHS for talking therapies are for men.

Here, Steve Tobias, Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapist (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) at Roodlane Medical, part of HCA Healthcare UK, discusses the reasons why some men may not acknowledge their mental health, the importance of checking in with your thoughts and feelings and the support available.

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The importance of recognition

As a general rule, it can take men longer to recognise that they are stressed or that they should speak with someone.

Men also generally find it more difficult to open up about how they’re feeling, especially at work, where they might view opening up as a weakness, or think that others might view them as weak.

How to spot changes in your mental health

To help you check in with your mental health, it’s sometimes useful to ask yourself some questions; What is my sleep like, and have I developed a poor sleep routine? Am I snapping more at friends, family and colleagues? Am I less motivated than normal or finding it difficult to focus? Have I stopped taking good care of myself? Noticing that changes are occurring in how you’re thinking, feeling or behaving, at work or at home, is a great first step in acknowledging your mental health.

Think of the following analogy – you notice a rattling whilst driving your car. You recognise the noise is there, but you don’t do anything about it because the car is still able to get you from A to B, so you don’t see a mechanic. However, what if this rattling escalates, and what if this happens whilst you’re out driving on the motorway? The lesson to take away from this analogy, is that even if you think that you’re not that stressed, or you’re not that anxious - don’t dismiss these feelings.

If you have identified a ‘rattling’ within you, there are things you can try to do to help ease or manage these feelings:

  1. Create a ‘structure’ to rely on by creating lists, prioritising tasks and developing a plan
  2. Try to look after your body by eating healthily and exercising regularly
  3. Actively take the time to try and change your perspective on a problem by reframing your thoughts.
  4. Engage in meditation, mindfulness or deep breathing exercises which can not only minimise feelings of anxiety, but it can also improve your sleep pattern if that’s something you’re finding difficult. Apps such as Calm or Headspace might be helpful.
  5. Talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, mentor, colleague, partner or family member – people underestimate how much of a relief just talking about your feelings can be.
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Don't put off seeking help

Everybody is different and so what is right for you may not be right for somebody else, but in my experience, speaking to someone about how you're feeling, no matter how big or small you think it is, can be hugely helpful. This could mean talking to a friend or family member or even your GP. Some people prefer to seek out the support of a therapist as a first step.

If you see a therapist, it might just be for one session, or it might be for more. For some, therapy is about seeking reassurance that what you are feeling is OK, for others who tend to have more sessions it's about working through your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. A common therapy that is used to help you work through your feelings is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a ‘brief’ therapy, which will help you to identify your triggers, and look at how you view these triggers and the consequences these views have. During therapy sessions, your therapist will help you to reframe your thoughts so that you’re able to start seeing things in a different way, and think and feel a different way as a consequence.

How to spot whether someone around you needs support

How can you tell if someone you know needs support with their mental health, and how can you offer your support without pushing them away? These are questions that many people ask when they suspect someone they know may be struggling. Here are a few ways you could help:

  1. Set aside enough time to speak to the person alone, in a place where they feel relaxed. Perhaps this could be going for a walk or having a coffee.
  2. Start the conversation by simply asking ‘how are you doing?’ If the answer is brief, try to ask other questions which might encourage them to open up, but in a non-invasive way.
  3. Practice ‘active listening’ - really listen to what they are saying and react to what they are saying, without giving your own interpretation on it or relating it to yourself.

It’s important to remember that if someone does choose to confide in you, don’t feel that you need to have all of the answers to help them. Simply taking the time to listen will be more appreciated than you realise.

There’s lots of support if you are struggling – don't suffer in silence.

More information if you or someone you know wishes to seek help