Men’s mental health, a taboo

Men’s mental health is a subject that remains a taboo throughout the UK and other countries. They are expected to be hard and tough and ‘act like a man’ when something goes wrong and their ‘macho’ act falls short of society’s expectation. But what people don’t seem to realise is that men are human and are biologically created to experience emotions just like women do.

In fact, a study in 2013 by psychologists Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis demonstrates that men and women overlap when it comes to personality traits that are typically understood as gender-specific. These include how open people are to non-committed sex, how often they masturbate, how much empathy they have, and how much they feel for their family or friends or partners – despite the fact that most people believe men and women are very different on all of these aspects.

So why, then, do we have such specific expectations and beliefs when it comes to the male gender and how they should act in society? We interviewed two males at Brunel University and a counsellor at Brunel Counselling Services who talk about the subjects of men’s mental health, toxic masculinity and their experiences.

George, 19, lives on campus, says “talking to other men about your mental health is surrounded in vague language”. “It’s hard to open up to male friends as it ‘kills the mood’ to talk about feelings and emotions and issues with them.” This is despite the fact that men also deal with depression and anxiety but try harder to hide their symptoms and as a result, they become angry and aggressive. They may also be more prone to deal with these issues through alcohol or drug consumption.

“It’s a sensitive topic but no one really talks about it even though we should”, admits Jugroop, 19, from Hayes. “People need help whether to a large or small degree but aren’t getting the help because they don’t speak on it.” “Men have pride, they don’t want to admit they have problems. But ego and pride are just defence mechanisms.”

“Men get a feeling that admitting their problems makes them look weak. You don’t know how your friend is going to react about it when you open up about it to them. This exacerbates the problem”, he says.

Jugroop feels that family and culture and one’s upbringing plays a big role in how a male might deal with his problems. “Men’s mental health is a taboo in some families and cultures”, he says, “there are families that talk about it and are open and communicative about such issues but in other families, it’s a more of a taboo. Sometimes your family can be very understanding and supportive but sometimes they can be quite ignorant about it.”

“Therapy for guys is good and it’s necessary”, expressed George. “It doesn’t take away your manhood and I’ve also had therapy sessions to deal with my anxiety.” George’s anxiety was heightened after he joined Brunel and began living on campus, away from his usual comfort zone and the physical support of his immediate family. “It was shocking”, he says after having had a panic attack at a restaurant. “I often have quite a lot of shame over it.”

“Therapy forces you to explore things and catalyses openness and exploration of different angles and you begin to understand more about yourself.” – George

George got in touch with Brunel Counselling Services last November and was on the waiting list for only three weeks. “Awkwardness was minimal and anxiety issues were explored immediately” he explains, “finding follow up services was very good”. George was referred to the Metanoia Institute in Ealing to follow up with his anxiety issues and he found it helpful and effective and it showed that you would be supported further even after the services at Brunel reach their limit, you will never be left alone.

At Brunel Counselling services, 62.6% of clients are female and 37.4% are male, despite the fact that more males than female students attend the University.

“Males are three times less likely to seek help but three times more likely to commit suicide.”, states Peter Eldrid, Counsellor at Brunel Counselling Services. Peter is a former counsellor at Childline and he says one in five calls he received were from males in the eleven years that he worked for Childline.

“There is an issue of acceptance of the issue”, he says. “Men tend to leave the issue till it becomes more serious, they don’t talk about feelings unless they really have to.” Which is why men are less likely to reach for help. This is made worse by the expectations that we have of gender roles nowadays.

“There are no role models where men feel comfortable in talking about feelings, it’s getting better but it’s still far off”. England footballer Danny Rose opened up about his depression earlier this year and admitted to seeing a psychologist and taking medication. The former Coventry, Liverpool and Wigan goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland also came forward with the issues he was dealing with last year. But this isn’t enough. Men’s mental health needs to be talked about more openly and needs to be dealt with directly.

Whatever it is you are dealing with, no matter how small or insignificant you think it is, if it is affecting you or making you go out of your way to conceal it then it is a sign that you need to talk about it. Reach out to Brunel Counselling Services. Their drop-in services are available Monday to Friday at 2pm.

Brunel Counselling Services:

Call in person to the Counselling Reception opposite the Medical Centre or phone 01895 265070 to book an appointment or leave confidential voicemail or email at brunel-counselling@brunel.ac.uk

Office Opening Hours:

Monday 10:00am to 4:30pm

Tuesday 9:30 am to 4:30pm

Wednesday 10:00am to 4:30pm

Thursday 9:30am to 4:30pm

Friday 9:30am to 4:30pm

Other services that you can reach:

* The Samaritans - available 24/7: 08457909090

Text Samaritans on 07725909090 www.samaritans.org.uk

* Nightline - available to all students 6pm to 8am ever night of term: 02076310101 www.nightline.org.uk (also free internet-based calls on Skype via website). Email listening service: listening@nightline.org.uk

* Get connected – a free and confidential helpline for young people, plus email and webchat services 1pm to 11pm daily www.getconnected.org.uk

08088084994

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