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Male Mental Health: Breaking Down The Stigma And Speaking Up!

By Peter Wyn Mosey
Peter Wyn Mosey is a participant of People Speak Up Projects, including Story Care and Share and Spoken Word Saturday.

According to research carried out in 2014, one in eight men in the UK suffer from mental health problems, however, men may be reluctant to talk about their problems.

Suicide rates in men are on the rise. According to the Samaritans, men aged between 45 and 49 have the highest rates of suicide of all groups. But why is that?

The figures are clear enough. Men are responsible for 76% of the total number of suicides in the Uk every year. (Office of National Statistics) Suicide is the most common cause of death in men under 35. (ONS) 12.5% of men in the UK have one recognised mental illness. (Men’s Health Forum) Men are three times more likely than women to have an alcohol problem (Health and Social Care Information Centre) Men are more likely to use illegal drugs and more likely to die because of them. (Men’s Health Forum)

As one of the ‘one in eight’, I’m going to explore some of the mental health issues that many men face. I’ll be talking with one mental health survivor and we’ll both be sharing our own personal stories and we’ll be discussing what men can do to help themselves and each other.

Kris’ Story

Kris’ battle with mental health first started in his mid-to-late twenties after the death of his father. Unable to process the grief and without an understanding of the depression that it caused, Kris became very self-destructive. He soon moved from Newtown to Swansea to get away from difficult memories and to try to come to terms with his loss.

Picking up on mental health issues can be challenging. Kris attributes his inability to spot his problems in his first breakdown to an unwillingness to accept that he could be ill. Society stigmatises mental health issues and can make them taboo.

Although he may not have understood that he was suffering with depression at the time, Kris was lucky to have close family that saw this in him and supported him through the difficult times.

Life improved for Kris for a period and he returned home to Newtown. A few years later he found himself in a very stressful work environment and soon his mental health problems would re-emerge. Suicidal thoughts led Kris to seek out help.

The second bout of mental health problems saw Kris moving from Newtown back to Llanelli to have a fresh start with his family. He would eventually make changes to his life that would put him on a positive new journey. This included starting university, joining a choir, and finding People Speak Up.

A turning point for Kris came when the choir that he sang with teamed up with People Speak Up for the Sing My Story, Tell My Story workshop. Kris opened up about the death of his father for the first time properly and the experience was very cathartic. Kris told his story in front of a large audience and this, in turn, helped him dramatically with letting go of the emotions that he had held onto for so long about his father passing.

From this first encounter with People Speak Up, Kris found a new purpose. He saw the good that the group did for him and others like him and decided that he wanted to volunteer for People Speak Up.

Family is important to Kris. He believes that the support that he has received from his family has been important to him. Even though he could not understand or express how he was feeling, he believes that he is lucky to have had that support.

Kris’ advice to anyone struggling with mental health problems would be to reach out to those around you. Nine times out of ten you’ll get the help and support from others when you need it the most.

He also believes that structuring your life and finding something that you are passionate about to look forward to can be very helpful in managing your mental health issues.

My Story

I have personally struggled with my own mental health. I have had depression in one form or another for most of my life. I am an outgoing person who is always happy to talk to other people, but I find it particularly difficult to talk about how I really feel until everything is on top of me.

Perhaps this is because of the society that I grew up in, or perhaps I was never shown how to talk about what was affecting me. I often feel that I am only able to voice the pain that I am in when it becomes unbearable.

I have sought assistance for my mental health on several occasions, but have so often not found the help that I needed. A breakdown in 2012 saw me placed on antidepressants and a low spell in 2019 saw me placed back on them. All of this was without a diagnosis and, if anything, the medication often made my moods worse.

During the first lockdown earlier this year, my mental health problems got worse than they had been for a long time. I found that my moods were rapidly cycling and when my anxiety was at its peak I would get sudden, and often violent, suicidal thoughts.

I contacted my GP and was immediately referred to the crisis team. Following a series of appointments, I was diagnosed with a condition called Cyclothymia. I had never heard of this condition before, however, I soon learned that it is a mood disorder similar to bipolar, only with more rapid changes between the highs and lows.

I am now medicated to control the continuous cycling of my moods. I still need to be mindful of the triggers and how I am feeling and I hope to get further help for my condition in the future.

Getting help is vital. If you are experiencing mental health difficulties and you have nowhere to turn, it is essential you turn to your doctor or a charity such as Mind.

For me, having somewhere to turn and to talk about my mental health problems has been crucial.

People Speak Up has given me a creative outlet while allowing me to process some of the complex mental health issues that I face in a constructive way. The groups that come under the People Speak Up umbrella are all safe spaces to connect with others. Building connections is essential in breaking down the stigma associated with mental health issues.

People Speak Up’s Men’s Group

People Speak Up’s men’s Group ‘Men in Conversation’ is a safe space for men of all ages to come and talk. When setting up the group, we were keen to ensure that anything that was said in any of our meetings stays there. This is not a support group or a self-help group. This is a place where men can communicate with one another without having to worry about the trappings of societal norms.

The group was set up following the advice of Phil Ralph who had set up a men’s group previously. When People Speak Up first reached out to Phil and asked him to share his experiences he was happy to help but felt scared and vulnerable. It was never comfortable, but it always helps to share. Phil says that “the more of us can share vulnerability, the more normal it becomes, the more we realise that we’re not alone, and the more support we can give each other.”

“Men need to talk. Specifically, men need to talk… to each other… about being men.”Phil Ralph

Phil’s Story

About a decade ago Phil was proud to be a ‘strong man.’ He chased deadlines, ran marathons and never took any time off- he never took the time to wonder how he felt- and then he had a breakdown. A few weeks after his 40th birthday he was carried from his house on a gurney and hospitalised with an autoimmune condition. His own immune system was attacking him and trying to get him to do things differently. This was a loud and clear message that he needed to re-evaluate his life. Phil says “I’d like to be able to tell you that I heard its message and did things differently… but there were a few more years of bashing my head against a brick wall, and a few more breakdowns before I finally got the message”

Like many men, Phil was convinced that being a man meant being strong, never showing weakness, and never asking for help. “The rate of male suicides in this country and around the world is an epidemic. The damage that toxic men clinging onto outdated notions of manhood are doing to themselves and to others is likewise off the charts. Men need to change. And the kicker is – we can’t do it alone. We need to talk to each other, learn from each other, support each other.”

Phil decided to start a men’s group. He had read a few books and all of them had mentioned the idea of groups of men coming together regularly to share stories of failure, vulnerability and doubt. This may sound great in theory, but in practice, it meant being in a room with just men, something that Phil had never been particularly comfortable with, while actually being vulnerable, which is something he had always felt he was terrible at. But he persevered and had a few cagey conservations with guys he knew. The group started to meet and still meets- and still talks. They are there for each other. And it helps.

Men Need To Speak Up

At the moment, meetings of People Speak Up’s Men in Conversation are held fortnightly via Zoom. Get in touch with People Speak Up if you would like more information about the group.

“Men need to talk. In fact, you might say that men need to ‘speak up’. Because we all need to be better men – for ourselves, for those we love, and for the world.”Phil Ralph

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