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Men, are you okay? Raising awareness around men’s mental health

While there is more awareness being raised about men’s mental health, there are still many opportunities for improvement and greater efforts in schools and work places.


A new way through the pain

“In every cry of every man…the mind forged manacles I hear.” [William Blake]

As a life coach I have become more aware of the growing concerns of men’s mental health and the private issues that can plague and lead them into a vortex of anxiety and depression. A series of thought-provoking questions can help to open up a tiny gap into which a light can shine. What men come to understand is that there is always a new way through their pain; a better, more productive way. With that comes a spark of hope – small in the beginning, but with the possibility of a more balanced, peace-filled existence.

“And one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” [Shakespeare]

In one lifetime men go through many stages and changes. From birth to death, they embrace different roles for many people, experiencing a multitude of emotions and feelings.

Men, role models, and road maps

As boys become men they look to their role models for advice, approval, love, and acceptance. And who are their role models? In his youth a boy looks up to his father as the person he wants to follow, emulate, and mimic. From his childhood to his teens he begins to look further afield for a hero, often with his focus turning towards sports idols and the like. As a young man moving towards his life’s work he may look to other successful men in the hope of replicating the success he sees and wants for himself.

It’s all well and good to have a role model but without a road map things can get confusing. Advertisements sell the image that being successful is about what he wears, the car he drives, and the job he has. On the other hand, he’s being told he should be more demonstrative with feelings and words. Do this, say that. So many mixed messages which can lead to confusion. A man with all his victories, hurts, possibilities, ideas, dreams, and realities must navigate the occasional rough waters of life.

Speaking up about men’s mental health 

One in eight men will experience depression at some stage of life. That’s a sad fact, which thankfully is being discussed more openly. Nonetheless there is still a stigma attached to seeking help. Often men are willing to praise and support the friend or sports star who comes out about his depression, he just doesn’t want to be the one who admits it about himself. Young boys at secondary school are also feeling more pressure to perform academically, socially, on the sporting field, and in other areas. This leads to a pressure cooker situation which can build and build and result in a male behaving in unproductive ways.

In recent years several AFL footballers, media personalities, and successful men from various walks of life have had the courage to open up about their depression and anxieties. In doing so they have paved the way for more discussion, publicly and privately. With heads held high and with supportive people by their side they have opened themselves to the opportunity of releasing the pressure valve and discovering that their honesty has begun to break the chain. An often-quoted maxim is, ‘we are as sick as our secrets’. How wonderful that these men, so often in the media, are willing advocates for mental health.

The next steps

But what is the next step in men’s mental health? One answer rests in continued discussion, which must begin in primary schools, continue in secondary school, and be implemented in all jobs. Just as we are seeing ‘work care’ commercials, we must also promote wellness as an integral part of the school and working day.

The ‘R U OK?’ campaign has set a new precedent in awareness of men’s mental health. The four steps: Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, and Check In, promote the need to be proactive. The question ‘R U OK?’ can be a life-saving question.

We can only change things one step at the time and it will take time to change men’s perceptions about the need to consider their mental state of health as a priority. We must continue to champion all men in the noble quest towards healing, mental health, and self care at all stages of their life, and to place a high emphasis on encouraging them to stay connected, to talk, to nurture friendships, and most importantly, to seek help when needed.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” [Sigmund Freud]

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