Updated: Jul 9, 2021
In 2020, the Office for National Statistics reported some shocking facts: the suicide rate for men in England and Wales was the highest in two decades. 4,303 men committed suicide in one year compared to 1,388 women. Men aged 45 - 49 continue to be the age group most vulnerable to suicide.
In a country like the UK that has achieved a fairly high standard of living, the stubbornly high suicide rate among men should raise alarm bells. After all, in the UK, the NHS is free at the point of care - so why are so many men not getting the mental care that they need?
Undoubtedly, men’s mental healthcare is a complex issue. It is a mix of systemic failure (such as excessive red tape in getting a psychiatric referral) and social and psychological issues (such as the traditional notion that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings).
Regardless of the reasons that hold men back, the good news is that you can take simple steps to improve your own mental well-being. Remember - mental well-being is less of a sprint, and more of a marathon; it takes discipline and endurance for you to be at your best.
Here are some tips that you can practise on a regular basis to look after yourself mentally.
Allowing Yourself To Process Your Emotions
We all go through different emotions throughout life - joy, excitement, grief, hope, and so on. That’s absolutely normal - it’s what makes us human beings.
The real difficulty arises when we don’t allow ourselves to process our emotions in a healthy way. So often, as men, when we hit a brick wall in our emotions, we don’t do anything about it. We simply bottle everything up and hope things will sort themselves out internally.
This approach simply doesn’t work. Think about this way: if you had a thorn stuck in your toe, you would immediately seek help to remove it from your body. If you simply ignored it and went about your daily life, you would be in constant pain and discomfort.
Unfortunately, that is how many men choose to live their lives in an emotional context. Rather than seeking help, we would rather pretend that our painful emotions don’t exist.
Of course, it isn’t easy to admit to feeling less than your best. We all want to be strong - for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our colleagues. However, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and others is to allow yourself to process your emotions in a healthy way.
Here are a few ways that you can do so:
Pen your thoughts and feelings in a journal. This allows you to reflect on how you’ve been coping after a particularly stressful event.
Confide in trusted friends about any negative feelings that have been weighing you down.
Take a walk or engage in a hobby that allows you to vent your emotions healthily.
Taking the time to process your emotions can feel awkward in the beginning, but the eventual rewards are worth it. At b1oke, we notice that when men feel strong and healthy emotionally, they have more of themselves to give to those dearest to them.
Recognizing The Need To Rest and Recharge
As men, we often feel responsible for providing for our families, and that drives many of us to go all out in pursuing our careers. However, if we are not careful, we can become overworked and slowly feel our energy depleting away.
Long working hours, and the stress associated with it, has been known to be a health hazard. The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a global study which shows that 745,000 people die a year from stroke and heart disease due to long working hours. The study also found that “almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.”
Therefore, it is in your best interest to know when to turn off the phone and your laptop and get some well-deserved rest. Invest in recreational activities with your family that don't involve work. Spend time developing an interest or a hobby, preferably one that you can do with friends. In other words, pay attention to the rhythms of your mind and body and get the rest that you need.
In addition, make sure you get enough sleep every night. Research has shown that sleep deprivation “results in the loss of sleep’s benefits for cognitive processes such as memory and insight formation: the building blocks of learning, creativity, and scientific discovery.” In other words, without adequate sleep, you won’t be able to function at your best during the day.
Know When To Seek Help
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we simply need professional help to support us in our journey towards optimal mental well-being. How do you know when it is time to seek professional help? As a rule of thumb, if your emotions negatively affect your relationships and your work, it means that it is time to seek help.
Depression is among the most common mental health complaints among both men and women. Here are a few cardinal signs of depression:
Persistent low mood
Loss of interest in things in you used to enjoy
Feeling fatigued more than usual
Having suicidal thoughts
When you experience these symptoms, book an appointment with your GP at first opportunity and tell your GP about what you’re feeling. If you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed and are afraid that you might do something to harm yourself, go straight to the emergency department. Remember - seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but one of courage.
A Community of Supportive Men
b1oke was founded on the simple premise of tackling the spiralling suicide rate among men in the UK and encouraging men to support each other in their mental health journey. Every one of us can use a bit of encouragement time and again. If you believe that men should aim to live emotionally and mentally healthy, we would love for you to join us in our mission. Together, we can and must turn things around.
Dr. Ryner Lai
Dr. Ryner Lai is a medical writer who has a passion to see vast improvements in the access and quality of mental healthcare in this generation.