Too awkward to discuss; too painful to ignore

November is National Men’s Health Awareness Month and Care UK’s men’s health expert is encouraging his fellow men to address something they don’t like to talk about, yet all agree it is a killer: men’s mental health.

Ade Adeniyi, consultant urologist and medical director at Emersons Green NHS Treatment Centre, wants men to think more about their own health, not just for themselves but also for their loved ones.

He said: “During this time of increased focus on men’s health issues, we often talk about ‘below the belt’ issues such as prostate cancer and checking your bits. Those are important and need to be talked about. But little is said about mental health.”

According to the Samaritans, men in the UK are around three times more likely than women to take their own lives. Ade said: “Men are prone to bottle things up quite a lot more than women do where, with many of these issues, it is easier to nip it in the bud if people seek help.”

It is important to look at practical ways to step away from the triggers of stress, anxiety and depression, but it can help to learn how to identify triggers. In truth though, this is not always possible or easy.

Ade’s top suggestions for men experiencing these issues:

  • Visit your GP. Family GPs are very supportive but men often hold back as they worry what they will say to their doctor and how their doctor will respond. Women are more used to going to GPs for regular health screening, contraception and children’s health, so they are more comfortable talking to their doctor.  Men may fear appearing weak in front of someone. They may worry about confidentiality. GPs understand: they do not judge, they do not tell and many will empathise.
  • Counselling. A talking therapy available through your GP or privately. Men may be put off by the idea of talking about how they feel, but trained and registered counsellors provide a confidential and dependable environment for them to explore why they are experiencing certain issues. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s website explains more and lists registered practitioners.
  • Learning helpful techniques for dealing with stress. Including meditation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. Unlike other talking therapies, it tackles current problems rather than focusing on issues from the past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis. GPs can refer you to CBT services.
  • GP prescribed medication. There are medications that can help to relieve depression and anxiety. Ade has seen many men in his clinic who were on medication in the past but have been helped to the point where their GP was able to reduce and finally stop their prescriptions.
  • Exercise. This releases endorphins that make us feel happier, and being fitter gives us more energy and helps us to sleep more soundly – issues that often face people who are struggling with anxiety and depression. As well as joining a gym, there are free ways to get exercise such as running, jogging, or going for walks. Walking with a friend or loved one can also give valuable opportunities to talk about how you feel.
  • Do not fall into temptation. Using drugs, alcohol or other risk-taking in order to feel better not only damages you, but also risks those around you too.

During November, men, their partners and loved ones should be vigilant and encouraging, seeking to prevent situations deteriorating. According to the Samaritans, men in mid-life remain overwhelmingly dependent on a female partner for emotional support. Their research shows that these men are of a generation unsure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons.

Ade said: “One thing is certain: mental health does not affect only the man but the family, the workplace and the community at large. Let’s make a concerted effort to address it this year. We may be surprised how this benefits us as individuals and our loved ones.”