The numbers on male suicide and mental health problems make for grim reading. What more can be done to support men's mental health? We share some thoughts from our friends at A Year of Small Changes.
We have a problem...
It is estimated that 1 in 8 men in the UK are suffering from one of the common mental health disorders and this number is rising. (1)
A poll of 1 000 men by the Priory in 2017 found that 77% of men had suffered with anxiety / depression / stress at some point in their lives.
Despite this, 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health, even their closest friends.
Some of the reasons men reported for not seeking help include:
‘I’ve learned to deal with it’
‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone’
‘I’m too embarrassed’
‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’
‘I don’t want to admit I need support’
‘I have no-one to talk to’.
In a one year period in Scotland there were 72 450 GP or practice nurse contacts made by men for anxiety and 54 990 for depression. Of these contacts the biggest number were seen in the 25-54 age group. (2)
The impact of poor men's health makes for quite awful reading.
Of the 5,821 deaths from suicide in 2017, 75% were male, with suicide being the leading cause of death in men under 50 years of age.
This amounts to 13 men taking their own lives each day, an entire rugby or football team.
Should you go and see your GP?
Men should be encouraged to speak to their GP if they feel they have symptoms of anxiety or depression. As a GP myself I would really hope that all my patients, men included would feel comfortable talking to me about their mental health, but the sad reality is that this is not the case.
There are many reasons for this. One of the big barriers is actually getting an appointment in the first place. GP practices, mine included, often use admin staff to ‘triage’ requests for appointments.
By this I mean they will ask you for a rough idea of what the appointment is for. While this information is really helpful for us in trying to get you an appointment with the right person, I am well aware it is another barrier to men, and women, actually getting in that chair in front of me.
Please be assured that a simple ‘It’s personal’ will suffice. We get this response several times a day. I would also suggest making a telephone consultation if this is either easier to get quickly or if you think you would be more comfortable speaking on the phone initially rather than face to face.
Also, if you are feeling really down, depressed or having thoughts about harming yourself or taking your own life, then ask for an emergency appointment. This is what these appointments are for and why we have them at the end of all of our surgeries. Again, if you don’t want to say what it is just say ‘it’s personal’.
The questions I ask someone when they come to see me with stress, anxiety or depression vary to some extent depending on the individual and on how much information they are happy to share with me. Sometimes, men just come in and say ‘I just don’t feel myself’ or ‘I just don feel happy’. Often they say their wife/girlfriend/mum has either encouraged them to make the appointment or has made it for them.
Sometimes, there isn’t much more information shared than that. This is also ok. It may be the firs time that person has met me or even been inside a GP surgery in years so I can totally see why they wouldn’t feel at ease letting a stranger know all their most personal thoughts.
I can still help you with this information. There are lots of things you can do to improve your mental health and loads of places to go for support.
More often than not, we take the time to gather as much information as we can to help us to come up with a plan of action together. The ten minute GP appointment goes out of the window here. If you need much longer than this, then that’s just fine and is often why us GPs are running late.
If, based on information gathered above, we think medication would be helpful then we can usually get start right away. Equally, we can revisit this after giving you some information to take away and read.
There are also lots of other things we can suggest you look at in terms of your lifestyle that can have significant impact on your mental health.
Other things that may help
Talking to someone - don’t bottle things up. Try to speak to a friend or family member about how you are feeling. If you are unable to talk about how you are feeling, write down your thoughts on paper.
Eat well - anxiety and depression can have a negative effect on your appetite and people with these conditions often do not feel hungry. It is important to try to eat on a regular basis and aim for a balanced diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fibre and try to avoid too many sugary snacks.
Avoid alcohol and drugs - often this is seen as a quick ‘pick me up’ but alcohol and drug use will increase symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially amphetamines and cocaine.
Keep active - aim to be active every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. If possible be active outdoors but going to the gym is also a great idea. Activity reduces stress, increases ‘happy’ hormones including serotonin in your brains and aids sleep.
Work on getting good quality sleep - sleep disturbance is very common in anxiety and depression. Try not to get too irritated on nights when sleep evades you but instead do something restful, try practising some mindfulness techniques (try the Headspace or CALM app for example) and avoid screen time before bed.
Do something you enjoy - prioritise time in the week when you can do something you enjoy. Reassess your goals-maybe you are expecting too much from yourself. Set realistic targets and make small changes to get you on the right path to beating your depression or anxiety.
Read about depression - this may help you understand why you feel the way you do a little more.
Consider trying yoga or meditation - often overlooked as not seen as particularly ‘manly’ but there is a wealth of research to support their use in treating depression and anxiety and millions of men are using both yoga and meditation daily as part of their self care for their mental health. Just because yoga classes at the gym aren’t full of men, doesn’t mean men aren’t doing these things in the comfort of their own homes. I found both yoga and meditation intimidating concepts at first but I am seeing the benefits of adding small amounts of both into my day to day routine.
In part 2 we will look at some support available for men's health.