The well known self-help book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus on how to improve your relationships, is one example of the now more widely accepted idea that men think, feel and behave very differently from women and vice versa. Although the above is one man’s take on why men behave and communicate the way they do, much research on men’s health undertaken over the last twenty years, shows that men do react differently to women in response to stress and ill-health and also find it very difficult to ask for help. If you’re a man reading this, ask yourself, when was the last time you talked to someone/anyone about your feelings? If you’re a woman reading this, when was the last time your partner talked to you voluntarily about their problems?
Unfortunately, the impact society’s expectations have on men’s behaviour, means that they feel the need to show independence and a lack of emotion as well as a need to prove that they are physically strong and powerful. Asking for help and expressing feelings is still seen as a sign of weakness, despite some changes for the better in recent years. Consequently, men express their distress in very different ways to women. They often suppress negative thoughts for longer periods of time and and are far more likely to exhibit them in the form of anger or violence. This isn’t always directed at others, actually, it is more likely to be turned inwards and can be seen in the form of alcohol and drug abuse. There is also a parallel between rises in risk factors, such as job insecurity, unemployment, relationship problems/divorce and higher mortality from suicide, more of which later.
Another factor which often affects men’s mental well-being is a lack of social networks and support. Added to this, is a reluctance to put their trust in others. Women tend to be much more sociable, with larger support networks, whether that’s family, friends or work colleagues. Many of the male clients I have seen, said they felt isolated and found it difficult to open up to friends or family. Two of the main issues they have all had in common have been relationship and work-place issues, which have led to anxiety and depression.
The sad fact is statistics show that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. The age group most at risk is between 45 and 74. Not to put too fine a point on it, men in the western world are in crisis. Long-term unemployment for some and relationship breakdown have led to men struggling to find their identity in modern society. Many young men are finding it increasingly difficult to get a toe-hold in the jobs market and can end up in low-paid temporary employment. Older men in employment may have constant worries about job security and may stay in jobs which they dislike, either because they lack the skills/re-training to apply for anything else or don’t want to risk being out of work. When relationships break down, men often end up living alone, maybe for the first time in their life and if denied regular access to their children as well, find life extremely difficult to cope with.
If you can identify with any of the above, help and advice is available through national organisations such as CALM, Families Need Fathers, MIND and RELATE, as well as local counselling in your area. If you are looking for a counsellor, The BACP website, It’s Good to Talk is a good place to start.
However, if you’re reading this and thinking that none of this really applies to you, because you’re in a relationship, have a family, a good job etc, then look out for part 2 of this blog, coming soon.