Putting men in Mental Health

By Alice Sleightholme, first year Geography student

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) Foundation recently found that 40% of men wouldn’t talk to anyone openly about their mental health due to fear of judgement, embarrassment or being told to ‘Man Up’.

The fact men are encouraged to “show no weakness” in society has derived directly from the notion that dominating positions of power, like the hunter-gatherer, require men to be strong and silent, not showing any emotional or physical weakness. But the reality is, men should not be made to maintain this facade; they are human and need to be allowed to show emotion.

it makes men believe that they aren’t allowed to be weak, to cry, to struggle, to give up or to open up.

In many ‘macho’ images, there is very little room for men to express their mental health; as a result, men can struggle to open up and talk about their issues. Society has conditioned them, through the likes of the media, to believe that they cannot be weak, and if they are, the need to simply ‘man up’. Sadly, this expression is still frequently used for many of the wrong reasons. It conceptualises mental illnesses as something that can be ‘conquered’ by acting more like a man. The effect this has is harrowing; it makes men believe that they aren’t allowed to be weak, to cry, to struggle, to give up or to open up.

In a recent survey by the mental health charity, Mind, 77% of men said that they have suffered with anxiety, depression or severe stress and sadly 40% of men also admitted it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to make them consider seeking help. The research also asked the men why they don’t openly talk about their mental health – 40% said they have learnt to hide and deal with it, whilst 29% said they would be too embarrassed and 20% said there is too much negative stigma around it and they do not want to seem weak.

our culture has left very little space for men to express inner struggle

There is no denying that our culture has left very little space for men to express inner struggle, and we need to change that. For anyone living with mental health problems, talking about it with anyone – let alone a mental health professional – may seem scary and extremely difficult. But, for men in particular, who have been repeatedly told to ‘man up’, accessing mental health resources is not only daunting but it can seem to go against cultural expectations.

“Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them or by direct parenting, to be tough, not to cry, and to ‘crack on,’” says Dr. David Plans.

It is so important to speak up, and we need to let men everywhere know that it is ok to be vulnerable and emotional. We need to fight this stigma together. We must bring vulnerability, as the core principle of emotional strength, into the framework of masculinity.

Realising you are not alone in the struggle can be the first step to finding help. The charity, Mind, found once more that 1 in 4 people in the UK will indefinitely experience a mental health problem, at least one point in their life. Considering this, it is crucial that these issues become normalised. By starting to open up, even over coffee, in the office, at your parents’ house, with your friends or with a GP, you will realise so many people want to listen and help. But also, you’ll realise that no one will ever think of you as weak or dramatic or any less of a man.

it is OK to talk and to struggle

We must remember that it is OK to talk and to struggle, regardless of gender.

Having a conversation can be the first step towards getting better. Having conversations about mental health helps break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all.

I wanted to write this article as we see so many lives lost because people are scared to talk due to what society has told them or made them believe. It’s time for this to end. We need to make people realise they are worth so much more and will never be looked at differently because of what they are going through or dealing with. The ‘man up’ phrase needs to be re-engaged with; instead of using it negatively, we need to realise men going through mental health issues are just as strong than those not experiencing it. All men struggle, all men cry, all men are allowed to show feelings and weakness, all men are men.

Let’s keep men alive by talking.

Below are some useful contacts if you need to talk or help at any time:

  • Samaritans – 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org
  • CALM – 0800 58 58 58
  • Men’s Health Forum – www.menshealthforum.org.uk
  • Mind – 0300 123 3393 or www.mind.org.uk
  • OCD UL – 0845 120 3778
  • Rethink Mental Illness – 0300 5000 927 or www.rethink.org
  • SANE – 0300 304 7000
  • YoungMinds – 0808 802 5544

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