10CC told us years ago, that big boys don’t cry – it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it? No matter that people can be devastated by relationship breakdown or unrequited love, you just get on with it. Keep calm and carry on, and all that?
Some years ago, a friend of mine had a few health problems. Nothing major, but concerning enough and after various ineffective treatments and possible diagnoses from his GP, it became quite frustrating for him. His GP then suggested that if various things had been ruled out and if treatments had been tried and failed, it may be that the symptoms – his very physical symptoms – were attributable to stress. During a normal chat about how he was doing, he told me the ‘stress’ theory and seemed fairly indignant at the idea – after all, he was “a bloke!”
He wasn’t worried about anything, he was fairly hardened to the grit of real life, he had a good job that he enjoyed, lovely wife and son, although he was professionally ambitious and wanted a bit more from his career. He had a very decent lifestyle, etc., etc. … he just wasn’t “the sort of bloke to get stressed!!” And in many regards, he wasn’t – he was always as calm as a coma in the middle of extraordinary chaos in his job and had worked himself into a secure position in a notoriously insecure professional world. << But that’s not what stress is, is it?!! Or rather, it’s not the total of what stress related disorders can be.
Stress takes many forms – yes, you can have obvious stressors caused by straight-forward ‘worries’ like financial problems, redundancy and if they endure, it can have health and mental health consequences. Stress related symptoms can kick in after bereavement or just because your life has fewer hours in the day than are needed to get your work done with some kind of balance to the rest of your life. Again, we’ve probably all had that for short periods – when it becomes a long-term issue, it can lead to health problems of various kinds.
So I asked him to remind me exactly how long the symptoms had been coming and it had been just over a year. And I said, “And your lad is nearly 18 months old isn’t he?” His face went white. I asked what life was like for him and his wife, who also worked full-time after her maternity leave, in an important and demanding job. Fairly awful, it turns out. His wife suffered with post-natal depression and he’d struggled to get his head around it and I had known there had been serious complications for his wife, during the birth of their little boy. Their relationship since the birth had been hard – practical and functional and little time to spend as a couple as they’d struggled to balance work / home / life, etc., but he’d written it off as something just to be pushed through by putting his head down. It certainly wasn’t the child-free lifestyle they had both enjoyed before becoming parents where two adults earning good money could always do what they wanted, whenever they wanted. He felt somewhat, ‘trapped’ and couldn’t see an end to this phase of his life. Now I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, as you know … but that sounds like it’s got all the parts, doesn’t it?!
This month, Movember is not just about prostate cancer as it traditionally is – it is about raising awareness of mens’ mental health. Men, especially middle-aged men, are at far higher risk of their mental health problems, leading to suicide. This is especially true after events like redundancy or divorce, where risks are especially high. Theories as to why, include such events representing the most direct threats to our notions of masculinity, which represent that bloke as less than manly. I’m not a sociologist, either … but that works for me. I’d like to know more.
There are fewer organisations on male mental health than you may think. Especially when you consider the suicide rate. The CALM Zone is a charity attempting to raise awareness and offers support. The Mens’ Health Forum (website currently offline) also provides information on how mental health issues affect men. Obviously, groups like the Samaritans have a 24hr helpline as well as online resources and your General Practitioner can probably offer more support and information than you realise.
My friend took a big gamble and took a big decision to move his job, away from an organisation who had helped him get his foot on the ladder and supported him to get established. A difficult decision, which cut his professional apron strings and lead to suggestions of disloyalty, etc.. However, he was moving to somewhere which he knew would represent a far better work / life balance and deal with his professional frustrations and ambitions. He hasn’t had any health problems for years and has taken steps, very deliberate steps, to balance his life and ensure that daily reality doesn’t squeeze him and his wife, too much. Especially now they have two boys! Now, I’m not a doctor as you know …
If any man wants to access information or support for mental health problems, there are resources on the MIND website. There is also a very useful report for those who wish to know more about how mental illness can affect men.
The Mental Health Cop blog won the Mind 2012 Digital Media Award, in memory and in honour of Mark Hanson.
The Awards celebrate the “best portrayals of and reporting on mental health in the media.”