You’re catching up with a mate and they ask you how you are. What’s your answer?
Is it: “yeah, I’m good thanks you?”
For most men (including me), that’s probably their go-to answer even when it’s not how they really feel.
But for a few minutes today, on World Mental Health Day, let’s be honest about how we really feel.
Let’s talk about our mental health.
Mental health is as important as physical health
Physical health and mental health are as important as each other. One can impact the other. But we don’t treat them the same.
If there’s a physical health issue with you, you’re more likely to do something about it to fix it (although as men we’re still probably not running to tell the doctor about it). And you’re more likely to complain about it to your mates or your family.
But if we’re stressed, having unhealthy thoughts, suffering from anxiety or depression, or even feeling suicidal, we’re less likely to do both of those things.
When it comes to mental health, we want to avoid showing weakness or that we’re struggling. We fear being judged. If you’re British, there’s that whole stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on’ bullshit that we have to live up to.
And some people still don’t understand mental health conditions. So the stigma exists.
And that’s one of the reasons why nearly 80% of all suicides are by men.
Mental health problems are not a weaknesses, they’re an illness.
You’re not alone
One in 4 of us will experience poor mental health at some point in our lives.
So if you’re experiencing poor mental health, it’s very likely that someone you know, a mate or one of your family, has been in the position that you’re in.
Opening up when you’re struggling can be difficult but realising that you’re not the only one who’s been through it can help overcome that stigma and help you build the courage to ask for help.
5 things you can do to improve your mental health
1. Talk: be honest about how you really feel. Those that care will try to help you and by opening up, you might encourage them to do the same
2. Exercise: if I’m feeling stressed, I’ll head out for a walk or run to clear my head and I usually come back feeling calmer. Exercise boosts those endorphins!
3. Avoid unhealthy habits: a drink, a cigarette or eating your weight in junk food isn’t going to solve the problem. Try to stick to a healthy diet and build in better habits like exercising or finding something you enjoy
4. Take a break: change your environment if that is impacting your mental health. Work causing anxiety? Get out of your office or home and go for a walk. Use your lunch break to do something you enjoy. Take time off social media if you find that is getting you down or impacting your self-esteem
5. Write it down: keeping a journal can help you express your thoughts and feelings and take control when things start to get on top of you. Writing it down can help to make the challenges you might be facing more manageable. But use it to focus on the positives in your life too
These are the ones that have worked best for me but check out the NHS’s advice pages for more helpful strategies.
Looking out for others
With the impact of Covid in all aspects of our lives, it’s never been more important to be checking in on each other.
If you get that “I’m good” answer but you aren’t sure it’s the truth, ask again. If you’re worried about what to do if they do open up, check out Time To Change’s guide to asking twice for advice on how to listen and ask questions.