Men and mental health
It can still be a very lonely existence for a man struggling with his mental health.
Despite greater awareness and high-profile attempts by charities to banish the stigmas for good, many are harassed by the belief that their sex should be tough and fearless and are therefore reluctant to display any sign of perceived weakness. They choose to suffer in silence.
And the numbers will be significant with, on the last estimation, more than a tenth of UK men living with one or more of the common mental health disorders.
William was confused by the early warning signs just over seven years ago and initially suppressed them until the sadness and anxiety manifest in a more catastrophic way for him and his loved ones.
He said: “I was so aggressive. Whereas before I would let things go, I was up for the fight. The slightest thing would make me angry.
“The emotional side of me died and I was not showing any empathy. Family values went out of the window. My three children are my world and yet I just upped and left them one weekend. I was completely self-absorbed. A different person.
“I wasn’t sleeping and the less I slept, the worse I was. Yes, there were brief interludes where I felt brighter, but I was so down. I had never been like it before.”
William said dealt with in isolation, the issues bearing down on him could have been manageable. However, there was a slow accumulative effect with the various pressures combining so he felt like he was drowning.
The responsibility of being the bread winner for the family, the general daily demands and logistics of young children, financial strains as he and his wife embarked on their long-held ambition to build their own home, parents suffering serious illness and a job in the emergency services, which is formidable by its very nature. Added to that were some unresolved troubles from childhood.
There was a dramatic change in personality for the perpetual joker.
William said: “It just felt like water was being added to the pint glass and added and added and added and at some point, it was going to spill over the sides. The balance was all out.”
The 47-year-old cites his wife and family as making the biggest difference. They recognised the symptoms, remained patient and encouraged him to visit his GP.
Following a test involving a number of questions to determine his state of mind, he was offered counselling and a course of anti-depressant drugs.
William said: “There was a significant waiting list for the counselling on the NHS. If you are ready to talk, I would say make an appointment to go privately. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. But you have lost nothing by trying and I am sure everyone can get something out of it.”
The sessions served to give him positive coping mechanisms and the doctor is monitoring his prescription with a view to slowly decreasing the dose until he can stop altogether.
William said: “When I am stressed, I can feel the familiar sensations surface, but I am learning how to deal with that in a different way. I know I am not on my own and that it is ok to ask for help.”
How can you help if you think someone close to you is suffering?
Offer to listen. Listening to someone does not mean you have to say much back. Sometimes they may find it helpful to just talk to you about their problems and to know you are there.
Do not be afraid to ask them questions about how they are feeling and listen to their answers. If they are not feeling great, ask if you can do anything to help.
You might find that the person does not want to get treatment. This might be because they:
• Do not think they need help and things will get better on their own
• Are so unwell they do not think treatment will work
• Do not understand they are unwell
• Are scared of what will happen to them if they tell their doctor how they feel
• Are worried what other people might think,
• Are worried it will affect their job or studies
• Feel hopeless
If the person does not want to get help, it can be very frustrating. However, choose a good time to continue encouraging them to speak with a professional and be mindful of the words you use so as not to create any unnecessary tension.
Instead of being forceful and demanding they take a course of action, use gentler phrases like: I am concerned you have seemed down recently; It has seemed as though you’ve been angry recently - is that the case?; I would like it if you spoke to the doctor about how you are feeling?
And know when someone might also appreciate their own space, reassuring them you are there if and when they want you.
Members of Benenden have access to a 24/7 psychological wellbeing helpline, which is available from the day they join. Calls from UK landlines are free and callers can speak with a qualified therapist. The helpline service can offer immediate positive support to help a person get back on track.
Benenden’s new member enquiries line is 0800 414 8011.