Mental health problems don’t discriminate. We know that anyone, regardless of age, race, gender or socio-economic status can experience psychological and emotional distress at some point in their lives. You’d think, therefore, that the number of people seeking professional support for these problems would be an equal split of men and women, but that’s typically not the case according to clinical psychologist Cassandra Dunn.
“Men tend to be far more reluctant than women to open up about their emotions, especially to a stranger,” she explains. “No doubt this is largely due to social conditioning that leads men to believe vulnerability is weakness, or that they should be able to handle things on their own. Statistics would indicate that women experience more depression and anxiety than men do.”
However, statistics only reflect what is acknowledged or reported and, in many cases, people never disclose the extent of their mental distress. Given that men account for 75% of deaths by suicide, it’s fair to assume that men are experiencing higher rates of mental distress than perhaps they’re letting on.
How then, do we encourage men to pay as much attention to their mental health as their physical fitness? Here are three things Dunn believes we can all do to help men feel comfortable seeking help:
1. Redefine strength
The stereotypical ‘strong silent type’ is usually a man in complete control of his emotions. He isn’t prone to idle, unnecessary chatter. He quietly gets on with things, solving problems on his own. It sounds commendable but the truth is, when that’s the pervading paradigm for masculinity, it takes enormous courage to open up and share how you’re feeling. It actually takes more strength of character to be honest about your struggles than to bury them and pretend everything is fine when it’s not. For more men to feel comfortable admitting they’re having a tough time, we need to challenge those old stereotypes and get real about what strength and courage really look like.
2. Check up on your friends
Typically, talking about your problems has been the domain of women, not men. On the flip side men tend to be action takers. If there’s a problem, men want to fix it. But every one of us can benefit from sharing a problem and having someone really listen, without trying to fix it. When men hang out together, it’s usually to do something active or drink beer and watch the game. But just asking someone, “How are you?” and then letting them speak, uninterrupted can have powerful and lasting benefits. Conversations move beyond the superficial small-talk to topics that really matter. Your friend has a chance to get something off his chest which he might not otherwise have a chance to do and the quality of friendship deepens.
3. It’s not all about talking
Men’s propensity to do things and fix problems means when they’re under pressure they tend to work longer and harder to get on top of things, eat poorly and wind down with a few beers at the end of every night. It’s a cycle that can quickly lead to disrupted sleep, low energy and even more susceptibility to stress or depression. Looking after your mental health means taking time out for exercise and good nutrition, and finding healthy ways to decompress such as with relaxation and meditation.
Mental health is not only just as important as your physical health but the two are so interconnected that achieving optimal well-being requires you to treat your mind with the same discipline and rigor as your gym routine. Above all, the best thing you can do is not wait until you’re in distress before you start prioritising your mind. Start looking after your head with daily meditations from the Centr app to feel calmer, clearer and happier.
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