It’s Okay To Feel Blue

It’s Okay To Feel Blue

Historically most men have been taught from an early age to crack on, hang tough and not spend too long dwelling on their mood. As a result, many of us don’t feel comfortable speaking up when it comes to mental wellbeing. If that rings true then the experts have offered us their advice on how to recognise the signs and start to open up…

What are the signs of male depression?
Dr Oscar Duke: Psychological symptoms which might point towards a diagnosis of depression could include low mood, reduced energy and a lack of enjoyment. Many physical symptoms can occur, such as poor sleep, reduced appetite and a loss of interest in sex.

Simon Gunning, CEO of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): It can be hard to spot warning signs in someone, but factors like unexpected mood changes, social withdrawal, or change in sleeping and eating patterns can signal that someone is struggling.

Brendan Maher, Movember’s Global Director for Mental Health & Suicide Prevention: It’s not always easy to tell when someone’s feeling low but, if you do spot the signs that something’s not quite right, starting a conversation can make all the difference. The clearest marker is a change in behaviour. A friend might have mentioned they aren’t sleeping well or perhaps they’ve lost interest in doing things they normally enjoy, or it might be that they’re more irritable than normal – these could all be indicators they are going through a tough time.

Why does it seem more challenging for men to address their own mental health?
Simon: A staggering 84% of men in the UK say they bottle up their emotions, with nearly half saying they suppress their emotions often or at least once a day. There is a cultural problem rooted in the damaging masculine stereotype that conflates strength with silence. This can prevent men from seeking formal healthcare or from just speaking to trusted friends or family when times get tough.

Brendan: Many men labour under the stereotype that they should tough things out, be the solution to their own problems and that it’s not manly to talk about difficulties they might be having. In the UK, three out of four suicides are male, with 12 blokes taking their life every day. Every individual has unique factors influencing their mental health. These may include life-changing events like losing a job, experiencing a relationship breakdown or simply becoming a father. Men tend not to prioritise their social connections to the same extent as women, so dealing with stressful life events without the right support can be a contributing factor.

Oscar: Luckily, the classical ‘macho male’ stigma is beginning to change and men, rightly, should feel able to access any support they need without fear of judgement. Look after your mind and brain as you would any other part of your body!

"Take action by opening up a conversation."

If you’re struggling, what is the first step?
Oscar: The most important first step is to ask for help. If you find it easier to confide in a friend or family member initially, it might be useful to bring them along to a consultation with you for support. Often just the process of admitting to yourself or someone else that you’re struggling can be helpful and it’s the first step on your road to recovery.

Brendan: Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that talking has a significant impact if you can’t seem to shift feeling ‘not so great’, or you’re feeling overwhelmed about life. Take action by opening up a conversation. If you’ve tried some of these things and still feel bad, talk to a professional for advice and support.

What are the options for help?
Oscar: If you’re experiencing persistent or severe symptoms, it’s important to have a thorough assessment of your mental health with a healthcare professional. There are multiple treatment options which can be tailored to your specific needs, from counselling and psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to medications such as antidepressants.

If you think you’re depressed, but don’t have anyone to talk to, what should you do?
Oscar: GPs are trained to care for people with both mental and physical health problems so, if your symptoms aren’t settling, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss things. Patients regularly come to see me to discuss their anxiety or depression, so rest assured your doctor will be experienced in offering guidance, support and – if necessary – treatment.

"It’s about finding someone you trust; sometimes that might be someone who knows you, whereas at other times anonymity may feel more appropriate."

If getting a GP appointment is hard, is there anyone you can call?
Oscar: In many areas, you can contact your local talking therapy service directly. These are known as IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) services and can be found via the NHS website. Support can also be found through charities such as the Samaritans.
Brendan: Visiting your GP is a great first step. But, if you aren’t able to get an appointment or need to speak to someone immediately, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123. Our research has shown that men may choose to open up to a variety of people including partners, family and colleagues as well as friends, crisis lines and health professionals. It’s about finding someone you trust; sometimes that might be someone who knows you, whereas at other times anonymity may feel more appropriate.
Simon: There are some incredible organisations out there doing vital work including the NHS and GPs, the charity sector, and community groups across the UK. It’s important people can recognise they’re not alone if they’re feeling low and there is support available. CALM works very hard to raise awareness of our free and anonymous helpline and webchat, which is open every day from 5pm to midnight.

When it comes to work, should you talk to your employer?
Brendan: Research commissioned by Movember has shown that many men are still reluctant to open up in the workplace when they’re experiencing challenges to their mental health – citing concerns that they feel it might limit their career or even put their job at risk. There’s no hard and fast rule about whether this is the right thing to do because everyone’s situation regarding the workplace is different. There’s a lot of work being done, including by Movember, to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health so that more men can feel comfortable talking openly in every context.
Oscar: It depends to some extent on your team’s attitude to mental health – hopefully it’s positive. Usually being open and honest is the best option, but it’s worth confirming the diagnosis and coming up with a suitable treatment plan in your own mind before sharing the problem too widely.

Do you have any advice for coping with New Year blues?
Oscar: Set yourself some achievable aims. Be realistic with what you can achieve and don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t underestimate the importance of regular exercise and mindfulness in improving both physical and mental health. Carving out some time for yourself in a busy schedule is a vital technique for self-preservation.

If you suspect a friend or someone you know has depression, what can you do to help them?
Simon: If you're concerned about someone, ask them. Explore how they’re feeling with open questions and, above all, listen. We all go through tough times, whether it’s the breakdown of a relationship, losing a job, or going through a bereavement. It’s important to know that checking in on someone, even if it's just a text, can make a huge difference. Make sure they’re aware of the services available out there – like CALM, the Samaritans, or the GP – and make a plan. Don’t be afraid to involve family, friends or colleagues so that the person has a support network around them.

Brendan: Chances are, there’s a man close to you who is struggling with their mental health right now. If you spot something, ask them how they’re doing and don’t be worried about asking a second time if they reply with, “I’m doing fine, thanks.” Making an observation about why you’re concerned can add some weight to a conversation that can be lifesaving.

A good starting point in approaching a mate you think is feeling low is to use the Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, Check-in (ALEC) conversation guide:

ASK Start by mentioning anything different you’ve noticed. Maybe he’s spending more time at the bar, coming into work late, or missing social events: “You’ve not quite seemed yourself recently. Are you okay?” Trust your instinct. Remember, we often say “I’m fine” when we’re not. If you think something’s wrong, don’t be afraid to ask twice.
LISTEN Try to give him your full attention, without interruptions. Don’t feel you have to diagnose problems, offer solutions or give advice. Just let him know you’re all ears, judgement free: “That can’t be easy. How long have you felt that way?” Follow-up questions are good too. They’ll help let him know you’re listening.
ENCOURAGE ACTION Help him to focus on simple things that might improve his wellbeing: is he getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating properly? Maybe there’s something that’s helped before? Suggest he tells other people he trusts how he’s feeling. This will make things easier – for both of you. If he’s felt low for more than two weeks, suggest he sees his doctor.
CHECK-IN Suggest you catch up soon – in person if you can. If you can’t manage a meet-up, make time for a call, or drop him a message. This will show you care. Plus, you’ll get a feel for whether he’s feeling any better. If you’re worried that somebody’s life is in immediate danger, go directly to emergency services.

"If you're concerned about someone, ask them. Explore how they’re feeling with open questions and, above all, listen. "

Finally if you want to talk to someone you know, but don’t know how to bring it up, what are are some conversation starters to help make this easier?
Oscar: Try these:
“I’ve been a little worried about my mental health recently…”
“Recently I’ve been feeling low and I think it may be time to get some professional help…”
“My mental health is really deteriorating and I need your support to help me get better…”

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Disclaimer: It’s important to seek medical advice or even the advice of your pharmacist if you feel unwell and before taking any medication.

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