November 19th marks International Men’s Day, a worldwide celebration of the positive value men bring to their communities, families and the world.
This occasion naturally brings up the often-overlooked topic of men’s mental health and wellbeing. With around 1 in every 8 men in England having a common mental health problem1 – it’s time we spoke about it.
Read 11 of our best men health tips below, but before you do that, here is some information about International Men’s Day.
Why is there an International Men’s Day?
International Men’s Day is celebrated across the world in over 60 countries on 19th of November. The three main themes for the day are:2
- Making a positive difference to the wellbeing of boys and men
- Raising funds/awareness for charities that support the wellbeing of men and boys
- Promoting positive conversations about men, masculinity and manhood
Opening the dialogue up on these themes helps to address the main problems than affect men and boys, but are not often spoken about, like:3
- High male suicide rate – the rate of 16.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 was the highest recorded since 20004
- The challenges faced by boys and men in education, including re-skilling and attainment
- Men’s health, male cancers, shorter life expectancy and deaths in the workplace
- How men are less likely to seek medical support5
- Challenges for the most marginalised boys and men in society, e.g. boy in the social care system, homeless men and the high rate of male deaths while in custody
- Male victims of violence – including sexual violence
- The challenges facing new fathers and separated fathers
- Male victims and survivors of rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, domestic abuse, stalking, slavery and honour-based crimes
- The negative stereotypes and portrayals of men, boys and fathers
When is International Men’s Day?
International Men’s Day is celebrated on the 19th November.
In fact, the Mental Health Foundation UK has declared the whole month of November as men’s mental health awareness month. The campaign is for anyone who identifies as male or a man and whose mental health problems may have been affected by this.
11 lifestyle tips for better male mental health
To celebrate International Men’s Day on November 19th, we have put together some lifestyle tips that may be able to help you or the men in your life. Because, while many problems in life are experienced by both men and women, there are some particular difficulties and influences for men when it comes to mental health.
A lifetime’s conditioning can be very hard to change overnight, but there are some things you can try to help yourself or other men and boys you know with their mental health, like:
1. Explore, understand and choose to reject traditional gender roles and male societal expectations
For most of us, societal expectations and gender roles are pinned on us the moment our existence is discovered. Even before we are born, traditional gender roles interfere with our lives, from pretty pink dresses being bought on mass for women expecting girls to trucks and dinosaurs being painted in nurseries awaiting little boys. Now, these examples may seem harmless, and they are for the most part, but they all add up to shape the lives of many – and not always in a positive way.
A lot of men are expected to behave in a certain way and show masculine traits, like:
- Needing to be seen as strong
- Showing stoicism and a lack of emotion – ‘boys don’t cry’
- Being dominant
- Achieving control
- Being the ‘breadwinner’ of their household
And even if your parents don’t or didn’t directly push these views on you, you are likely to unconsciously internalise at least some these norms and expectations from life around you, e.g. in the media, films, school, friends and family.
Why are these roles and expectations sometimes harmful?
While wanting to feel in control and strong is not inherently bad or negative, some research suggests that relying on all of these traditional ideas of what it is to be ‘a man’ may have a negative effect on male mental health.6
Conforming to these societal pressures like having to be self-reliant and have power over others is linked to poor male mental health, as well as increased distress.7
Research on the male need to be stoic and show little emotion has revealed that men who feel that they can’t speak openly about their emotions are less able to recognise mental health issues in themselves and are much less likely to try and find support.8 In fact, only 24% of men who have felt highly stressed discuss it with their friends or family – leaving a whopping 76% to internalise any problems and pretend everything is fine. This can often make things worse.9
Knowing this, it is important to put less pressure on yourself to conform to what society deems ‘manly’ and be conscious of times when you’re acting up to the stereotype to see if you can change it. Also – stop holding other men to this notion as this only perpetuates the stereotype.
2. Get talking
Whether it’s your parents, partner, friend or councillor, it’s important that you try to find at least one person you can open up to if you’re struggling with a mental health issue, other health issue or any other problem laying heavy on your mind. If you don’t have somebody you feel you can open up to or want to speak to somebody anonymously, Samaritans are a free phone call away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
3. Be there for the men in your life
If you see a friend, colleague or somebody else you know struggling try to offer them support and a kind ear to talk to – however awkward or alien it may feel to you. Every time you do this, the dangerous expectation for men to ‘man up and shut up’ about their problems seems more and more out-dated and unhelpful.
4. Focus on being yourself, not just ‘a man’
When going about your daily life, try and be conscious to your actions and see if you are doing certain things just to appear manly, e.g. trying to one-up your mates’ stories at the pub, starting fights for no reason, driving fast, drinking excessively, catcalling women and avoiding anything girly just out of principle.
Most people will agree that it takes a strong character to ditch social norms and expectations to be truer to themselves – so give it a go!
5. Learn how to ask for help
Not knowing how to ask for help is a major problem for a lot of men in all areas of their health.10 For example, in England men made up only 36% of referrals to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) – a talking therapy service to help adults with anxiety and depression.11
From choosing not to go to the GP for an illness to refusing to acknowledge or work on mental health problems, this issue of avoidance is not going to help anybody – especially not men. So, the next time you feel physically or mentally ill, please do not hesitate to give your GP a call and get the help you need, because things could get a lot worse if you just pretend it isn’t happening.
6. Avoid using alcohol and drugs to cope
A lot of people drink alcohol or use recreational drugs as a way to relax or have fun, but some people can abuse substances and end up using them as a coping method for stress or other distress in their life.
Men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol as coping methods when they are not feeling well, instead of getting the help that they need. You may not even realise you are doing it, as some things are very much ingrained into our culture, e.g. binge drinking on the weekend.
Try to be more critical of your drink and drug use and try to find out if you’re indulging to simply have a good time or if you’re doing it to bury health problems that would be much better helped if you acknowledged them and got advice from your friends, family or GP.
7. Find an activity you enjoy
Modern day life can be hectic and busy, which can cause some of us to feel tired and stressed. So, it’s important to find an activity to help us decompress and relax in our own time. Whether it’s trying out new cooking cuisines, learning a new skill like rock climbing, kicking a ball around in the park with friends or getting stuck into a good book or magazine, it’s highly recommended for you to find your very own fun and stress relieving activity to help you feel your best.
8. Get moving
Exercise shouldn’t be something we ‘ought to’ or ‘should’ do, so it’s important that you find one you enjoy – don’t slog it at the gym when you’d much rather be playing tennis or swimming lengths.
As little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can increase our energy, mental alertness and help us stay in a positive mood.12
Whichever activity you choose, getting physical has bags of potential to improve our general well-being. Research shows that when people participate in regular physical activity, they can expect increased self-esteem,13 less stress and reduced anxiety.14 Regular exercisers could also be less likely to develop mental health problems15 and if they already have a mental health problem when starting, their quality of life could improve.16
9. Anger management
Feeling angry is pretty natural and quite a healthy emotion to feel – when you’re in control of it. It’s normal to feel angry if we are frustrated or treated badly and it can help motivate us and help us identify personal problems.
Anger can also help us stay safe and defend ourselves in dangerous situations as anger usually comes with a quick ‘burst of energy’, which is part of our natural fight or flight system.
However, what’s not healthy is when your anger causes you to behave in a destructive way, has a negative impact on your mental and physical healthy, or becomes your ‘default’ emotion when you want to block your other emotions out.17
If you feel like you have an anger problem, the following treatments are available:
- Talking therapy and counselling
- Anger management programmes
- Help for violent and abusive behaviour
Your best bet is to speak to your GP about these treatments so they can help you decide which one would be best for you.
10. Get better sleep
Mental health and sleep are quite co-dependent. Regularly enjoying a good night’s sleep can help you to feel less tired throughout the day, more able to cope with the tasks of daily life, confident with good self-esteem and less likely to be worried and stressed.18
Try to get a regular 7-9 hours sleep a night by limiting your late-night device usage, doing some exercise in the day, eating a healthy diet and making your bedroom a haven for sleep.
11. Eat well
Your brain is always working hard to allow you to think, move, breath – survive, even when you’re asleep. So, it only makes sense that what you fuel your brain with, e.g. what you eat and drink, will affect its function and consequently your mood and mental health.
Healthy foods like fresh fruit and veg contain vitamins and minerals to nourish your brain, whereas a diet high in convenience and refined foods like sugary snacks and processed meat can be harmful to the brain. In fact, multiple studies have linked a diet high in refined sugars with impaired brain function and depression.19
Try to eat a varied diet packed full of plants and all the nutrients you need to thrive. What you put in your body has such a profound effect on your overall health that it’s a no-brainer really!20
The final word
We hope these tips can help you get on track to better male mental health, but as always, please consult your GP if you are struggling with your mental health – or your general health for that matter. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Last updated: 12 October 2020
3 As source 2
7 As source 6
13 As source 11
14 As source 11
15 As source 11
16 As source 11