We know that boys and young men experience mental ill health- they have feelings and emotions like everyone else- but we also know that it isn’t talked about or more widely reported as it is in females. Why is this? Lots of anecdotal evidence suggests that this is down to perceived gender norms and societal expectations. The concept that showing signs of mental ill health, feelings of anxiety, low mood, crying, finding things tough- is a sign of weakness.
Statistics can tell us that depression, anxiety and eating disorders are more common in females than in males but that suicide rates are much higher in males than females – according to the Office of National Statistics nearly 75% of all suicide deaths were recorded as males. That’s a staggering and somber statistic. Could this be that males are not accessing support for their mental health in the same way as females? What barriers are preventing young males from getting the help and support that they may need? As a society what can we do about this? How can we lower the stigma and discrimination around male mental health?
OPENING UP THE CONVERSATION – Openly talking about mental health and the challenges that young men face. Normalise that we ALL have mental health and that sometimes things feel hard, tough, worrying, overwhelming and challenging. We can all experience these times, and this is when we may feel we need to reach out and seek support. There is nothing weak about this and is often the bravest and strongest thing that people can do. Things feel like they are getting better, with more male celebrities and sports personalities openly talking about issues they have had with their mental health, but there is still a long way to go.
THINKING ABOUT THE TIME AND PLACE TO HAVE CONVERSATIONS – Often a relaxed approach is the best way to start a conversation. Could this be on a car ride? When on a walk? Think about a time when things are calm and relaxed. If you are concerned about someone, think about what you want to say. (see below)
ASK TWICE! – Starting the conversation about mental health may feel difficult. You might not know what to say and perhaps you’re worried about saying the wrong thing. In our experience, if you show that you care and that you’re listening that’s always the best place to start. Asking ‘are you ok?’ often isn’t enough- it’s so easy to say ‘yes I’m fine’. So, ask twice and back it up- ‘are you sure you’re ok? I know you have a lot on at the moment and I’ve noticed that you’ve been quieter than usual. I’m here if you need anything’.
CHALLENGING STIGMATISING LANGUAGE – I’m sure we’ve all heard things like ‘Man Up’, ‘Boy’s don’t cry’, ‘Stop acting like a girl’ etc etc etc. What message does this send to young boys and men? If you hear phrases like that- gently challenge them. By raising awareness and lowering stigma you are removing barriers for boys and young men seeking support.
LOOK OUT FOR SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MENTAL ILL HEALTH
In general for any young person some signs and symptoms to look out for
- Loss of appetite or eating more than usual
- Withdrawn from friends and family
- Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed
- Lack of self care or change in appearance
- Sense of hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Refusal to go to school
In boys and young males in particular you may also see
- Increased risk taking behaviour
- Increased anger, irritability, aggression, violence
- Substance abuse or misuse
HELP AND SUPPORT FOR YOUNG MEN
Article Written By Becky Crawly – Children & Young Peoples Team