It’s time to talk about men’s mental health

This week is Men’s Health Week and even though the number of males reaching out for mental health support, there is a crisis we need to keep talking about

Jordan has been struggling with his mental health on and off for over a decade. At least once a year, he experiences bouts of intense depression. They’re hardly predictable. Sometimes they’re triggered by life events, others they seem to appear out of nowhere.

“Usually, I don’t realise how bad these episodes are until I’m back on the other side of one,” he says.

“When I realise that my depression is not just affecting me, but affecting those around me too, that I am able to look inwards and acknowledge that something has to change. It’s one thing to suffer in silence and deal with the struggle of depression on one’s own, but when it starts to seep into relationships, and affecting those I love, that’s usually a good sign that something needs to change.”

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Depression among men is common. One in five will experience it in their lifetime, though few seek help and support when they most need it–chalk it up to the traditional masculine gender norms that have historically demanded men to bottle up their emotions because revealing them or talking about them is a sign of weakness.

Given seven Australian men, on average, die by suicide every day and they are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots.

“The ‘man up’, and ‘she’ll be right’ mentality; we know from lots of research, that conforming to these masculine stereotypes has really negative impacts on men’s help-seeking behaviours and how they manage their mental health,” observes clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Cohen.

Jordan did seek help, more than once, but he had trouble finding someone that he felt comfortable opening up to. “It’s a bit like dating; sometimes you have to go on a few bad dates before you find the right person, but when you do it is really wonderful,” he says, a challenge made even more difficult with the pandemic lockdowns and an inability to see a professional in person.

Mosh provided a solution. It’s a telehealth startup that specialises in men’s mental health and offers convenient and discrete online counselling. The burgeoning telehealth industry presents a unique opportunity, especially for men who find visiting a clinic intimidating.

“Men often prefer to talk side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. They’re often more comfortable opening up while sitting next to each other driving in the car or on a walk,” says Dr. Cohen.

“The appeal of Mosh’s telehealth offering is that men can access expert mental health support from the comfort of their own home, or while they’re on a walk. It can make them feel more comfortable to open up, develop rapport with their psychologist and engage effectively in treatment.”

It’s not just professional support that’s important, though. Chatting through issues with mates is an essential ingredient to healthy mental wellbeing and interestingly, the pandemic and lockdowns in 2020 influenced this for the better.

“We all were struggling, and we all knew the only way to get through it was to discuss it. This meant that some honest and difficult conversations started happening,” he says.

This didn’t come without hesitation, however.

“I am a very outgoing, outwardly confident person, but somehow I thought that by revealing my mental health struggles to my friends, their perception of me would change,” he recalls.

“It’s actually been the opposite. Seeing me be open about my struggles and taking control of my mental health has had a positive influence on my friends who were feeling the same way.”

Dr. Cohen observes: “There’s a more nuanced narrative to masculinity developing now that celebrates vulnerability – that it’s actually a sign of strength to open up about one’s struggles and reach out for support.”

When we suspect one of our loved ones might be struggling, it can be difficult to know what to do or say, but Dr. Cohen says a check-in can be as simple as: ‘Hey, you haven’t seemed yourself lately, are you okay?’

“It can help start a conversation and let them know you care. Make sure you listen and give them your full attention,” she says.

“You can’t necessarily fix someone else’s problems, but you can be there for them.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available at Lifeline: ph 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: ph 1300 22 4636.

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