The majority of men in my professional and personal experience have a difficult relationship with mental health; or perhaps more accurately they have a complex and difficult relationship with themselves. This is often born out of feelings about how they should present themselves – it’s not just about who they are but who they should be.

As children many men are taught to suppress some aspects of their feelings and emotions- ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘grow up’ and ‘don’t be such a baby’ are all terms most men are familiar with. Later this turns into ‘man up’! So it’s little wonder that many men grow up to feel somehow repressed, or conscious of not showing feelings and emotions. Individually we suppress our own emotions and feelings and collectively men can sometimes form shallow and slightly superficial bonds with other men – where friendships often form without the expression of any feelings or emotions.

Research tells us that more than 40 per cent of men state that they have never spoken to anyone about their true feelings and emotions- just imagine for a second just how difficult that must be; how lonely and desolate it must be to be left entirely alone with your thoughts and feelings. Of course people like me think the answer is simply to encourage men to talk; to free themselves of a lifetime or repression and to simply muster some courage and let it all go. But it’s quite obviously not that simple, and who are men going to talk to?

Men have often spent a great deal of time cultivating a particular image to the people around them – that they are strong, independent and resilient- are they simply going to abandon that? It’s a hugely risky strategy with no guarantee of a successful outcome and the prospect of being vulnerable is probably the definition of fear for many of us. Add to this the stigma that continues to surround mental health in society and it’s no surprise that many men – as desperate as they might be to talk choose to remain silent and their inner suffering continues. So how do we help?

The first step is probably to create a positive environment for a male friend or partner- have conversations where you share your inner most feelings and thoughts – make it ‘normal’ to talk about feelings, be honest about the fact that we all struggle, demonstrate that you are not judgmental and perhaps most of all be patient – encourage and be consistent in your approach and when someone takes a leap of faith and shares – simply accept their thoughts and feelings with empathy and just listen attentively. – remember you should feel incredibly privileged if they chose to open up and talk to you.

Men’s relationship with mental health is one of modern societies greatest challenges – and it is one that has no simple remedy – safe for us all being aware and doing our bit to change the prejudices and stigmas of the society we live in.

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