It’s officially Movember, the month where focus turns to men’s physical and mental health, with a particular spotlight on prostate and testicular cancer and male suicide. The sight of freshly grown moustaches at this time of year has become representative of the cause and an instantly recognisable symbol of solidarity.
On average, men die 4.5 years earlier than women, for largely preventable reasons. Both testicular and prostate cancer are on the rise, and approximately 60 men around the world die every hour from suicide. In the UK, 75% of all suicides are by men, with the highest rates amongst men aged 40-49.
Men are just as likely as anyone else to struggle with their mental health, but they are less likely to ask for help – statistics show that just 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies were for men. This can be partly due to traditional gender roles and societal expectations – men are often expected to be the breadwinner, to be strong and in control. If men feel like they can’t live up to these standards, this can create a stigma of shame and embarrassment, where men feel vulnerable and perceive opening up about how they feel to be a source of weakness that doesn’t fit with society’s idea of masculinity. Men are also more likely than women to use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms, rather than open up to friends and family.
Suffering in silence can really take its toll, and can leave individuals feeling like they have no other options available to them.
One of the most important things that men can do to protect themselves and their mental health is to talk more. Many organisations and causes, including Movember, are working to encourage men and boys to do just that – to be more comfortable and better equipped to share their emotions and experiences, and build resilience and confidence as a result.
Improving other areas of life, like eating well, getting plenty of sleep and being physically active can all help provide a solid foundation of physical health. It can also help to take up a new hobby or volunteering, try meditation or mindfulness, spend time in nature, or listen to upbeat music – all of these can improve self-esteem, build confidence and provide different coping mechanisms to help when times are tough.
The key thing any of us can do is to spot the signs of struggle, either in yourself or a friend or relative. Have you noticed small changes in habit or behaviour, like not joining in on social media as much as usual, not sleeping or eating well, drinking more than normal, avoiding social situations or being more irritable than previously? It’s small things like that can be a symptom of something much more serious.
If you’re worried about someone in your life, it’s best to start slow and small. Checking in regularly is the best method to let someone know you are there for them without judgement – it could make all the difference and may just save their life. You don’t have to be an expert in mental health, just asking how they are feeling is a start. Mentioning the changes you’ve noticed is also useful, and don’t be afraid to ask twice – we’re conditioned to say we’re fine when we’re not. The most vital thing you can do is listen, and keep listening.
For more information on Movember and how to get involved, visit movember.com. If you are immediately worried about someone, call NHS 111 or the Samaritans on 116 123. If you are in distress or feeling suicidal, call 999 or go to A&E and ask to speak to the crisis resolution team.