Asking for help can be difficult. For some more than others. And perhaps some people ask for help too soon, too, if they have little faith in themselves. But I think with mental health it’s almost never too soon. There’s far, far more risking in asking too late.
Implicit in asking for help is the admission that you can’t do something on your own. And somehow we have a set of behaviours and embedded beliefs – at least in industrialised societies – which means that men typically (not always) find this harder than women. None of the usual reasons for this make much sense to me, to be honest, since it is illogical to teach or believe that doing something alone is a better, more strategic, more useful act than doing something in collaboration. Surely one of the bravest, toughest, most painful endurance acts in the world is giving birth to a child and women don’t usually try to do this on their own: we know that asking for help is right and sensible and we don’t think less of ourselves for asking to be supported and taking the advice, help and empathy that’s available. And pain-relief!
Women seem to find it easier to ask for help with mental health, too. But anyone can need help. Arguably, we all need help. In fact, one of the five building blocks of resilience that I talk about in Be Resilient is your support network. No one is an island and we do not function best when we try to be islands.
So, if you are wise, whatever your sex or gender, and if you want to be stronger, do better, be more successful in any way you value, you will ask for help in all sorts of situations, including when you feel your mental health is at risk. It is not a sign of weakness but of wisdom, strength and being a successful human. Not for nothing were we given brains that are big enough for deep connections and communication, sharing knowledge and ideas. Language is for that sharing of knowledge and support.
Think about these two facts:
- Wherever you look you’ll find statements and statistics suggesting that women suffer (or are diagnosed with) mental illness such as depression more often than men
- Yet three quarters of suicides are by men – this is a consistent finding in UK stats, for example see here
Is it not highly likely that humans are vulnerable to depression and other mental illnesses regardless of gender but that females are diagnosed more than males because, in part, males don’t ask for help or recognise that their emotions are important, valid, worth talking about and can be helped if only they would ask for it? If only they did, perhaps we could save at least some of those lives lost to suicide.
This week is Mens Health Week. Men, boys, your brain and body are intricately connected. When one is attacked, they both are. You need a healthy mind to run your successful life and keep your body strong and heathy. Your emotional state is important; it’s a major part of what makes you human; wisdom and strength include doing everything towards making your mind strong, and that includes asking for help when you need it.
We need to make it crystal clear in schools that mental illness is biological and not a character flaw, and that asking for help early is the right thing to do.
No one is an island. No one is made of stone. You are stronger when walking with someone.
Do the right thing: talk. Whoever you are and however you feel.
Call to action in your family/friendship groups:
- Try the Can Do challenge for Mens Health Week – anyone can do it, not just boys and men!
- Discuss how the phrases such as “man up” or “grow a pair” or “he’s got balls” undermine the human need of men to be honest about when they’re feeling vulnerable or needing help – and stop using them! (But, in my view, the more important part of this is what you do next, rather than simply not using some words. Actions, not redactions.)
- When a boy or man is displaying anger, find an opportunity to check how they’re actually feeling – boys and men more often express low mood by being angry, whereas girls and women more often express low mood by more obvious signs such as sadness.
Talk, listen, share. We’re all human.
If you’d like to talk to me about resilience in young people – whether boys or girls or everyone together – contact me. Be Resilient is there for you – publishing on July 1st.