Spotting the signs and supporting men with mental health

The Movember movement is about to take off again...

…with moustaches and fitness challenges doing a mammoth job of raising global awareness for men’s health and the core aim of reducing the rate of suicide in men by 25% by 2030.

To keep the momentum going we asked the edit’s regular contributor Leanne Bracey to share her personal story of what it’s really like living with a partner who has depression.

‘Mental health’ covers a spectrum of conditions, from anxiety to bipolar, OCD to clinical depression.  Here you’ll find advice how to spot the early signs of declining mental health, how to support male friends and family who may be struggling, and what professional support is out there for anyone who needs to hear it.

 

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Our story

I first met my partner on New Year’s Eve 2017. His laugh and his natural comedic nature had me in stitches. But I detected a deep sadness about him as his comedy covered something up.

He told me about his depression early on; he was very open, candid and transparent, his depression very much part of how he sees himself.

When he’s at a low point, he needs me to reach out to him in a calm and caring way, and to let him just ‘be’ at that moment.  When his depression is really bad he feels like he’s been paralysed: “for me this looks like I’m not doing anything at all.  It’s like a complete shut-down, I’m unable to express how I’m feeling. I’m flat-lining, dead-pan with nothing to give. I feel insecure and embarrassed and I can’t let go. Most of the time a really good cry helps so much but there are times when I can’t even do this.”

I’ve always been so grateful for his honesty, and together, over the last three years, we’ve found ways to help manage his mental health issues.

 

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Men’s mental health in numbers

A report by the charity MIND, has shown that the amount of people with mental health issues is rising with 43% of men admitting to feeling regularly low or worried and over the last ten years the number of men having suicidal thoughts has doubled.

Mental health for GBT men is particularly high, with Stonewall finding 2 in 5 stating they have experiences depression and 54% of GBT men experiencing anxiety.

Stress is a big contributing factor with 45% of men saying that unemployment problems are a major factor and 41% saying that financial concerns had made their mental health worse.  The pandemic has had an impact too, with 42% of men attributing pandemic restrictions to impacting their mental wellbeing.

 

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Men also worry more about their appearance than we think, with a rise from 18% to 23% since 2009, with one of the main factors being social media use.  My partner often doesn’t want to leave the house because he doesn’t like how he looks when his self-esteem is low.

However, the good news is that over the last ten years men are feeling more able to seek help.  They are now three times more likely to see a therapist and as equally willing as women to see their GP.

Spotting the signs of declining mental health

The way mental health shows up in men is somewhat different to women. Their problems can manifest differently and the symptoms of anxiety and depression are more likely to go unrecognised as they tend to have lower levels of satisfaction with life.

There is a tendency to fester on things which can be very hard to get out of, and it can lead to angry outbursts or acting withdrawn. Men are also more likely to drink alone or take recreational drugs when they feel alone or having a hard time in their mind. Other symptoms can range from hoarding, self-harm and sleep problems, amongst others.

The role of men in society, stoicism and self-reliance are traditional behaviours often stopping men from reaching out.  There’s still a stigma around talking about their problems being seen as a weakness.  There is the expectation of males to ‘man up’, attitudes passed down through generations that no longer serve our culture now.  Fear of being put on medication is another reason why men are less likely to seek help, as is embarrassment.

 

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How can you support someone with mental health?

Here are a few suggestions from Movember, MIND and some things I’ve learnt along the way:

  • Opening up some gentle communication can be really helpful – asking observational, open questions shows that you’re paying attention. What they may need at this time is someone who will listen with an open mind, without judgement, not to be told what to do, just the sense of being heard.
  • Suggest reaching out to a broader network of people; encourage them to research for professional support or offer some assistance with this (see below for a list of brilliant organisations).
  • Watch out for friends that might be misusing drugs, withdrawing and/or showing irritable or angry behaviour. 1 in 10 men get angry when they feel worried – ‘acting out’ and externalising their worries with antisocial behaviour.  This is in contrast to women, many of whom ‘go in’.
  • Gently reminding them that this isn’t going to last forever – it’s just the way they’re feeling for now and that things will feel brighter, while showing empathy and gentleness. Talk about things that show them you don’t think their mental health is what defines them.
  • If they’re single without the support of a partner, they may feel overwhelmed by doing the simplest of things. Help them out by doing the washing up or taking the rubbish out.  When someone is on their own, it becomes more important to keep themselves going.
  • On the outside, depression can appear to be selfish and as you see your friend or partner reach the lows, you may start to feel unappreciated. But don’t give up on them.  Just having someone around who they love and trust, making them some comforting food or bringing tea, drinks or snacks is a huge thing.  Someone in this frame of mind still needs you to reach out to them, no matter how much they’re not responding.

Supporting someone with a mental health issue can be really demanding. Make sure you give yourself space and time too and reach out to MIND charity who also offer great support.

What you can do if you need help

Find people who understand and who listen.
Not everyone can deal with someone who has mental health issues, they may not understand depression and so seem dismissive or shut the conversation down.  One of my male friends says, “my dad doesn’t really know how to deal with it so we talk about other things that we have in common.  Sometimes this is a good way to get me out of my head.”  Having the right people around who can see when you’re not good is what’s important. If you have a good social media community this can be a way to let people know what you’re going through.  My friend often does this, letting people know he’s not good, “I can have chats on Facebook and consider what I’m saying and know I’m only speaking to people who want to indulge in that conversation too”.

Let them know you dont want to be fixed.
Many of us want to fix our loved ones who have mental health issues.  You might want to let them know, at this moment in time, you don’t want solutions, just to be heard.  Let them know that by just being there is good enough.

Get outside and move.
It can be a sure fire way to pull someone out of their feelings. Men are more likely to respond to an activity, with exercise being one of the best ways they manage destructive behaviours.  However, it can also bring about feelings of guilt. My partner says exercise is the last thing he wants to do as his motivation is at zero, then he beats himself up over it. So sometimes just stretching the legs is enough.

Just do one thing.
If the feeling of shutting down is immense, sometimes just getting out of bed and having a shower can feel like a victory.  Equally, there can be anxiety around going out and socialising. Honour this. Yes, getting outside will help immensely but there are days when even this is too much. Have no judgement on this as tomorrow is another day.

Appreciate the small things. Making a point of appreciating the things you have, no matter how small, or may take for granted, can help you gain perspective. Try practicing some mindfulness and gratitude techniques.

 

If you, or someone you know, are suffering with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues and it feels unmanageable, it’s important that you seek professional help from any one of these brilliant organisations:

Men Walk Talk
An inclusive ‘walk and talk’ group, providing a safe space where men can meet up and talk about their mental health.  Based in Littlehampton, East Sussex but they offer support if you want to start up your own local group.
[email protected]

Heads Together
An initiative spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  The aim is to tackle mental health stigma and create new ways to do this.  There are practical tools to help such as SHOUT, a free text message service offering around the clock support to anyone who is in crisis, providing a team of trained volunteers who can help turn a crisis moment into a calmer state and help figure out a plan for longer-term support.
Text SHOUT to 85258

Mind Out
MindOut is a mental health service run by and for lesbians, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people. They work to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all LGBTQ communities and to make mental health a community concern. Through proceeds made from its Drag Extravaganza events in September, Get Living was able to raise more than £400 for the charity.
01273 234839
[email protected]

Young Minds
A charity focusing on children and young people’s mental health, the aim is to stop the mental health of young people reaching a crisis point.  They are able to offer specialist mental health support as quickly as possible and also offer support to parents.
Text YM to 85258

About the author

Leanne Bracey is a Clinical Aromatherapy Expert in Training currently studying at The Well School in Oxford. She is trained in La Stone energy treatments, a Soul Plan reader and a Chakradance Facilitator.  Her aim is to bring together these modalities and offer support to her local community in Herne Bay, Kent. Read more about the healing powers of Aromatherapy.

Leanne has a background of working in Women’s Magazines and Sunday Supplements as a Picture Editor and is formally the Food Picture Editor at The Sunday Times Magazine. Find her on Instagram @leannebracey and @thealchemistshb.