When it comes to mental health and men, the facts and stats make for difficult reading. We’ve all watched the campaigns and we’ve all read the headlines:
- Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45
- Globally, on average, one man dies by suicide each minute of each day
- The rate of male suicide is alarmingly high: 3 out of 4 suicides in the UK are by men
There’s a numbness that comes with these stats. We can spend so much time looking at them, we can lose sight of the stories. And it’s the stories that we want to hear. The stories on the side of life, not just on the side of death (although we must continue to tell these too). The stories are there, lodged in the throats of the men in our lives choked by emotion.
When it comes to men’s mental health, there are no easy answers, but it’s more important than ever to keep asking questions. Questions that will let these stories out. Talking Men’s Club is the start of this journey for us. It’s a project about listening, as much as it is about talking.
WHAT CAN I DO TO CONNECT WITH THE MEN IN MY LIFE?
As therapists, we’re so used to meeting men at crisis point: a man struggling after a relationship breakdown, another man burnt-out, a man devastated after losing his job, another man brought to his knees by responsibility, a man struggling in his own attempts to cope through drink and drugs, a man stressed about money, a man feeling like he’s a shit dad, another man feeling lonely and disconnected — as if he is meeting the world through a murky perspex screen with noise-cancelling headphones on.
In the most devastating cases, we meet friends, partners and family members mourning the loss of those men — mourning the loss of mates, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles and cousins.
Tackling poor male mental health and suicide rates is a systemic issue. Unhelpful masculine stereotypes, buying into dogma in society that says men don’t talk or share (especially about how they’re feeling), discrimination towards sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, financial instability, poverty, unmanageable debt, unemployment, poor housing conditions, and other socioeconomic factors all prevent men from living mentally healthy lives. We mustn’t forget these things.
But, even in the face of all of this, individually, we can still do our bit. At a time when men are being told to open up more, be more vulnerable, to cry more… I’d challenge you to just stop and listen. Make space to hear, to drop down from the surface level “I’m fine” and into meaningful conversations. Into the real-talk.
So, whether you’re a man wanting to forge deeper connections or someone wanting to connect with the men in your life, here are a few steps you can take to create more meaningful moments…
1. Firstly, know that every human wants connection
Having deep and meaningful’s can be awkward; it can be hard to find the right words. Dropping underneath the banter and talking about how we’re really doing can feel like speaking a foreign language sometimes and as soon as the words “open-up” or “vulnerability” are mentioned, it can make a lot of men want to barf or shut down.
This being said, I’ve never met a man who didn’t want more meaningful moments and connections in his life. It’s no secret that it can be hard, but the first step towards getting there is refusing to accept the age-old stereotype that says men don’t talk or share their feelings. They do, your mate does, your husband does, your partner does, your brother does, your colleague does. It just needs the right framing.
2. Don’t overthink it
You don’t have to stage an intervention to have a meaningful moment. Usually, the best conversations happen in natural moments. Going for a walk or chatting whilst driving can offer the space to be ‘alongside’ and take the intensity out of a face to face conversation. Grab a coffee, grab a pint (if they’re not boozing too much), have a chat whilst you’re travelling somewhere, pick up the phone, call them whilst you’re cooking or walking home. You don’t just get one shot, meaningful connections are built up of repeated moments of interaction. Consistency, quality and quantity.
3. Be direct & listen well
How are you doing? How are you holding up? What’s been good this week? What’s been shit? You don’t have to leave it until this point, but if you notice they’ve been stressed, tired, withdrawn: name it. You’ve looked stressed recently, what’s going on? Don’t shy away from asking and challenging the knee-jerk: “good, thanks”.
After, listen actively. Listen to what they have to say before you respond. You don’t need to rush in to fix or to solve. You can suggest: I can listen, or I can get practical with you, what are you needing?
4. Mental health is not fight club, we can talk about it
I’m not expecting a world in which people post a photo of themselves on their Instagram whilst at therapy with the hashtag #goodsesh — just as they would do at the gym. But we can all do more in terms of normalising looking after our mental health. It serves everyone when we do so. Had a tough time and did something that helped? Listened to a good podcast that shifted your thinking? Had a positive experience of therapy? Tell people about it.
Know when to signpost on. There will be times when men in your life need professional support.
When we shift the narrative around things like therapy away from being something to be exclusively used by people who are unwell or unable to cope, and towards something to be used proactively in gaining tools to better deal with life’s challenges when they inevitably come up — the world can start to look like a very different place
At Self Space, we base our whole service model on prevention, not reaction. We have a multi-disciplinary team of therapists available 7 days a week for same-day appointments, not just for when you are in crisis, but for everyday mental maintenance. We launched knowing that therapy doesn’t always have to be a reaction to illness, but instead, it is an active engagement in wellness.