The focus on the 19th November is often on men’s wellbeing as part of International Men’s Day, and with the month of November being used to draw attention to Men’s Mental Health, there really is a big emphasis on encouraging men to talk more openly about how they’re feeling. With 40% reporting that it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to disclose that they may be struggling, it’s apparent that something must change in order to allow individuals to feel more comfortable discussing issues before they reach this point.
This doesn’t require a particular scheme of education, a new service or any large-scale changes. It only requires that a portion of men make some small, fundamental changes to the way they view themselves and others. Often as men, we’re perhaps brought up with aspirations of being a stereotypical Clint Eastwood-type – strong and silent. We often hear about how women’s bodies are portrayed in an unrealistic way in the media, in films etc. But think about almost every male lead you’ve seen in a movie; ripped, tall, quiet.
What about on social media platforms? Almost 30% of men over the age of 18 report having felt anxious about their body. Would you have guessed the number was this high? Probably not, because we don’t talk about things like that. We’re men.
But what does it mean to be a man in 2020? What does masculinity even mean anymore? Clearly, the traditional ideals of masculinity are no longer serving us well (if they ever did). 75% of suicides are men, and the number of men taking their own life is increasing. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for men under 35, and that’s an alarming statement.
So, what would it take to change this? Well, simply talking. And it doesn’t have to be everyone. One person in a friendship group asking seriously how the others are doing, encouraging their friends to feel comfortable seeing what’s beneath the surface. I’m not suggesting we all must dive in and pour our hearts out to each other, but just opening the door is enough. If you’re reading this and think that you could be that person, I implore you to take that first step, next time you sit down with a friend, share how you’ve been feeling about something in your life. Good or bad. Help them to see it’s ok to talk, by modelling that behaviour.
If you have a son (or daughter), start talking about “feelings” (a dirty word for us men, I know) early on. If something has upset them at school, talk through how it’s affected them. Model positive behaviours, sit down and discuss (within reason) some things that have stressed or upset you at work maybe. Show them it’s ok to be open.
Here are some things to keep in mind, that may make it easier to begin these kinds of conversations with friends and family:
Think about the environment and your surroundings. The middle of a busy office or pub possibly isn’t a space where people are going to feel comfortable opening up. Try to choose somewhere relatively quiet or private in order to better facilitate these conversations.
Tone of voice is important, if it seems like you’re making a joke then people will often laugh it off and use this to deflect from going any deeper. (This is something we’re very good at!)
If you feel you can share a little bit about something you’ve struggled with or an experience you’ve had, then this will go a long way to making someone see that you are a person, they can trust and that has the capacity to understand how they might be feeling.
Don’t push too hard to get someone to talk, this just makes them put up barriers. As we mentioned before, just opening that door can be enough. Maybe they will come back to you in a week or a month with something they want to discuss.
If you do manage to start a conversation, encourage the other person to go on and try to talk to another friend. I guess, pay it forward.