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Male health and seeking support


By Tom Cleary, BSc (Hons) Psychology, Dip.CBH, PGCE, MBPsS, GQHP


There’s an old joke (I can’t promise it’s funny, but bear with me)… A man goes to the doctor complaining of seeing spots. The receptionist asks him “have you ever seen a doctor?”. The man replies, “No, just the spots”.


I’ll leave that with you for a moment, but the point behind it is that men tend not to go and see a doctor to proactively seek help with their health issues, they tend to go once

something is too big to ignore. At least according to the statistics. And while statistics can be useful, I like to see what the people I’m directly working with say about things like this, and so I asked multiple groups as part of a series of sessions on men’s wellbeing. Around 95% of the men agreed with this finding, and the women in the groups also said they felt it was true of the men in their lives.


Why is this?

There are multiple factors behind this, from shame, stigma, time, fear, gender stereotypes and expectations. Many men find it very challenging to seek support. And the reasons can be different for each person, after all ‘men’ as a group is incredibly diverse. But regardless of the reason, the impact can be particularly negative and is part of the rather shocking statistics about men’s physical and mental health: from general life satisfaction, all the way through to suicide rates, it’s not a good picture.


My own experiences

My own experiences of mental health challenges tell a very similar story. It took me a lot of time and convincing to seek help, and even then, it was more reactive than proactive. “This sort of thing happens to other people! Not me!” was a recurring line of thought. And when I was in a particularly dark place, my own sense of shame and what I thought people may think about it, prevented me from telling anyone what had happened.

This was especially true with my relationship with food and weight. Society tends to see these things as somehow ‘belonging’ to women. And while eating disorders do proportionately affect women more than men, 25% of people with them are male. And they are a group which can be particularly vulnerable in terms of seeking support or even admitting there’s a problem. This is one of the reasons that BEAT (the eating disorder charity) is having a focus on men for 2023. Men experience a great deal of issues linked to food, weight and appearance. Pressure to look a certain way in order to be seen as successful, attractive, ‘beach ready’. And if not, somehow we’ve failed.


Talking

It took me a long time to even tell my closest friends about my issues with food and the impact it had on me, and so I lacked a support network at first. And that support network is incredibly important in any type of mental health issue. Over the past several years I’ve worked very hard on being more open and talking to people about topics I once felt a lot of embarrassment about. And that is one of the biggest things you can do – find someone who will take the time to properly listen to you and that you feel comfortable talking to. It might be a close friend, a GP, a helpline or a trained professional and if at first the person you talk to doesn’t feel like the right one, try someone different.


What else can we do?

I encourage people to be aware of stereotypes of what men are ‘supposed’ to be like. Whether in advertising, films, or our social connections. And to challenge those. Then as part of that, start identifying your own unique strengths and abilities, and also what you struggle with.


And when it comes to those things we find difficult, change the mindset we have on seeking help. Move from a ‘reactive’ approach to being proactive. As part of this, carve out time to do something that support our mental and physical wellbeing (whether that’s social connections, exercise, exploring interests and hobbies) and change the idea that asking for help is a weakness or sign of failure, it isn’t. It takes a lot of strength and courage to ask for help, and the impact can be phenomenal.



If you'd like to read more from Tom, you can find him HERE:

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