Men have been suffering in silence about their mental health for too long. Suicide rates in men are three times higher than for women, and several thousand men die by suicide each year in Australia. We have a crisis and it is time for change.
Men experience a range of mental health issues, such as stress, depression, anxiety, substance-related issues and post-traumatic stress disorder. Men have been opening up more about their mental health concerns, but they are still less likely than women to seek help for mental health issues, and they may delay or avoid getting help.
Barriers to seeking help and shame
There are a number of potential barriers that stop men from seeking help, including the general stigma that still exists in the community about mental health issues. And experiencing any emotional issues might be perceived as being ‘weak’ or vulnerable. These perceptions can trigger shame.
Men are socialized to suppress emotion, and to be ‘strong’, no matter how they are feeling. In addition, men seem to have greater difficulty in recognizing emotions than women. They are more likely to notice the physical symptoms of emotional distress before the emotional ones, so they may not realize that their mental health is suffering.
Recognising mental health issues
Mental health issues may reveal themselves in a number of ways, some not so obvious. These include physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep or tiredness; emotional symptoms such as low mood or anxious feelings; cognitive symptoms such as poor concentration or memory, or pessimistic thinking; and behavioural issues such as withdrawing socially, irritability and anger, or addictions.
‘The Changing Man A mental health guide’
For all of these reasons, my 28yo son, Alex, and I decided to research and write ‘The Changing Man’. We want to be part of the change that is desperately needed. ‘The Changing Man’ provides information on a range of issues, including anxiety and depression, substance use issues and addictions, as well as relationship difficulties; and is full of practical tools to put into action.
Twelve key tools
In ‘The Changing Man’ we talk about twelve key tools to help the man identify and take action on any mental health issue that they may be experiencing. The aim is to build up a toolkit over time to help manage any issues.
The twelve key tools are:
- Identify the key issue(s) (e.g. stress, grief, anxiety, addiction …).
- Set some goals – these need to be achievable and tackled in small steps.
- See your doctor and have a check-up: This is vital as some underlying physical health issues can trigger mental health issues.
- Focus on your lifestyle (e.g. healthy nutrition, moderate alcohol use, regular exercise, good quality sleep, regular relaxation or mindfulness …)
- Gather information about your issue(s) (e.g. from ‘The Changing Man’, Mental Health First Aid Australia resources, or websites such as Mensline Australia or Beyond Blue.)
- Reach out to others (e.g. a partner, mate, GP, counsellor …), and remember that reaching out is a sign of strength and courage.
- Consider counselling or talking therapies (e.g. counselor, psychologist, men’s group).
- Utilize your work and other meaningful activities.
- Consider complementary therapies (e.g. supplements).
- Work on prevention (see below).
- Consider whether medication has a role (talk with your doctor regarding this).
- Practice and more practice!
We focus on prevention in ‘The Changing Man’. In terms of mental health, this is about preventing the occurrence of an issue in the first place or preventing it from worsening or recurring.
Many of the tools in ‘The Changing Man’ aim to help the man develop coping skills, which aid prevention, and they also have the bonus of building resilience. This refers to adapting to stress and change in life, and is very relevant in current times with COVID-19 and the related uncertainty and changes, such as with employment or finances.
Prevention also involves a lot of action, and may include stress management (e.g. having some time out to relax or reducing workload); working on developing more optimistic thinking; utilizing gratitude or identifying regularly what we are grateful for in life; putting energy into what is important or valued in life; investing in relationships (ensuring there is strong connection and communication); practising more mindfulness or purposefully being in the moment; engaging in meaningful activities (e.g. time with family, work, sporting, social activities); and building self-belief and self-confidence.
It is important to know where men can access support, including seeing a General Practitioner or mental health professional, or tapping into phone support (Beyond Blue 1300224636, Mensline Australia 1300789978) and who to contact in an emergency (Mental Health Triage 131465, Police/Ambulance).
As Henry David Thoreau said, “not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”. Sometimes we can do with some help when we feel lost emotionally or in life. We hope that ‘The Changing Man’ provides assistance to men and their partners/families/friends in reducing the impact of mental health issues on men’s lives. It is time.
You can order ‘The Changing Man’ on this website (https://www.drcatehowell.com.au/product-category/books/), or it is available from Exisle Publishing and all good bookstores, including online bookstores.
Head to Health www.headtohealth.gov.au (see information on supporting CALD people)
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au
Black Dog www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Centre for Clinical Interventions modules www.cci.health.wa.gov.au
Open Arms (veterans) www.openarms.gov.au
Mental Health First Aid www.mhfa.com.au
‘Mind Mechanic’ relaxation tools for men.
Suicide prevention app called ‘BeyondNow Suicide Safety Plan’.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Men’s Helpline 1300 789 978
SANE Aust 1800187263
PANDA (Perinatal) 130726306
Open Arms 1800011046
1800Respect (domestic violence)