For many of us, mental health problems can be difficult to diagnose, treat and recover from but for men in particular, the issue is a pronounced one. According to ONS, just over three quarters of suicides in this country (76%) are by men and suicide is recognised as the biggest cause of death for men under 35. Many of the guys I have spoken with during my time as a mental health champion admitted to finding it difficult when it comes to opening up and dealing with their mental health problems.
We can examine the challenges that men face during these battles with poor mental wellbeing. Some will grow aggressive or combative, some run away from their whole lives (the majority of adults in the UK who go missing are men), some will go to extreme lengths to change their circumstances including resorting to criminal activities. Most reach these hopeless points in their battles because they struggle to find the means to tackle the issue early enough.
There is one weapon in this fight that may be a game changer, one source of support not given enough credit, one particular means to help men with these battles…other men!
There is the potential in a crowd of your fellow men to find the help and understanding that you need to deal with the challenges facing your mental wellbeing. In many cases, it may be that the causes of your problems (from family matters to financial concerns to relationship struggles) may be something that your friends have in common with you or at least can understand your point of view. But often, just knowing that your friend is on your side can be the spark that ignites your recovery.
Imagine the scene of a local football team in the dressing room, more than a dozen men in close quarters together. One of them is dealing with depression. What would you do if you were a) the one suffering, or b) his mate? In such circumstances, many might find it too difficult to speak up and either ask for or offer help in this case but once the situation is aired and the problem is known, how do you think the team should respond?
Camaraderie, the mutual friendship and trust that arises when people spend a lot of time together, is not unique to men but it can be an amazing source of support for them. Even in this modern and progressive age, there are still many men out there who fear showing signs of weakness or vulnerability amongst their peers. The competitive nature of guys can be a barrier for someone seeking help but we can harness this feeling of togetherness and direct it in a positive way. It is great to see a recent surge in professional sportsmen who are speaking up about their mental health.
One myth about mental health is that the only people who are capable of helping someone with a mental health problem is a trained professional such as a psychiatrist or counsellor. True, the big weapons (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) are wielded by the experts but it can be the simplest thing in the world to ask a friend “Are you okay?” or “How are you feeling?”
So you are the mate in that dressing room and you suspect that your team mate is suffering from a mental health problem. Why wouldn’t you try to help him? He’s your friend, part of your group and he plays an important role in the team (you all win if you are all well). There is so much power in the simple act of offering your friend a kind word or a sympathetic ear. You don’t even have to wait from him to open up to you, if you truly suspect he is struggling, why not just ask?
One of the worries that many men in this predicament face is the worry about being ridiculed, taunted or even ostracised from the group. Guys can be brutal with their banter but the idea that an issue which affects 1 in 4 people at any specific time can be so stigmatised is a major concern. After all, if you are willing to mock your friends for suffering from something which you may also suffer from one day, perhaps you are not much of a friend after all!
Even if you are not part of a team or a social collective, camaraderie can still help you. Imagine this scene…you are swimming across the Channel, it’s very much a ‘one person’ job but when you get to the shore on the other end and emerge onto the beach, you see someone else has just got out of the water having taken on the same challenge. You two were not in competition, you were not even aware of their efforts and yet, because you shared the experience together there is a sudden bond between you. Two people, fighting the same battle but in their own way, can achieve the same goals and forge a mutual respect for each other.
I find this camaraderie in the many, many mental health campaigners, champions and supporters that I have worked with over the years. We all share a bond despite the fact that our paths in life have been different. I don’t know about them but I feel like they will generally be happy to help me and I would be more than happy to help them in their struggles because we share a passion for something that connects us, a connection that makes us stronger as a group than we are on our own. The more time I spend with them, the greater that connection grows.
Camaraderie has great power to achieve great things. Think of the incredible feats that groups have achieved over the years by helping and supporting each other to reach a common goal. Landing on the moon, splitting the atom, curing disease and creating life…all incredible achievements from a group of people who looked out for each other along the journey.
Whether you are part of a sports team, a group of work colleagues or just a couple of lads who socialise together, one of the many great things you can achieve is to look after each other during the difficult times. Your bond as a group of friends can be strong enough to help lift one of your mates above the challenges that can affect any of us at any time.