"One moment everything was fine. Our whole lives had gone by in a smooth wave of success, opportunity and privilege, and then we hit this seemingly unassailable wall. People speak of resilience, of teaching your children to cope with hardship so they are better able to overcome it. But there are no training exercises for grief or loss of this magnitude. The only thing that pulled us through those first few weeks and drew us closer than our fraternal genetics would allow was the shared experience of now having a Dad-sized hole in our lives. It’s strange how you bond over not having a father much more than you do when you had one.
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Men’s Mental Health – Accessibility is a start to addressing the issue
Raising the profile of Men and their mental health has been recently highlighted by Prince Harry and his promotion of the “Heads Together” campaign. The many theories and statistics relating to men’s mental health and their willingness to seek help are at once concerning and frightening. Statistics show that men particularly aged under 50 are at high risk of suicide. In most of the articles on this subject there are well-rehearsed theories, most relating to the psychological and sociological perception of men by themselves, and indeed without any doubt these are valid and relevant.
There is another interesting statistic which is worthy of analysis, and it relates to the number and availability of male counsellors – is there a correlation to the number of men seeing a counsellor? In 2014 out of 40,000 counsellors registered with the BACP, only 20% are male.
In addition to their presenting problems, men come with an additional agenda – their masculinity and how it is being challenged. The sociological conditioning which is cited most often for men not seeking counselling – such notions as “big boys don’t cry” and that men are encouraged to be “strong and successful”, seeking help through counselling is therefore seen as a failure in the concept of “being a man”. Crucially men need to break free from these stereotypes, and seek to understand themselves as individuals.
Does this also apply to men considering a career as a counsellor? The rigorous self-examination required during a counselling training course, including experiential groups, role play and personal therapy are challenging for all students, but demand a particularly strong self-belief amongst men to overcome the resistance instilled by their social conditioning.
Some of the answers I believe also lie behind the closed doors of the counselling room, the creation of a secure therapeutic space, and a comfortable therapeutic alliance between the counsellor and the client, is important with all clients, but particularly for men who are taking this journey for the first time. If the exposure of emotions is perceived as weakness, the presence of another male who can share to some degree these sensitivities, will offer re-assurance and safety. The exposure of emotional vulnerability to a neutral male does not carry the same sensitivities as with a female where the presence of maternal attachment influences as well as the sociological concept of “being a man” could both discomfort the client. There is less pressure on the male client to fulfil the expectations of “being a man” when sitting with another male. It is perhaps a function of the male to male chemistry which is unspoken, but understood, coming in to play.
The potential of erotic transference and occasionally more blatant sexual tensions are often discussed, the presence of these feelings in the counselling room will be an additional issue which can be largely avoided in a male-male counselling dyad. My experience has led me to the conclusion that in many cases there is a deliberate selection by men in the counsellor they will be comfortable working with, this I believe reflects the needs of men to have some degree of control.
If there exists some hesitation towards seeking help, additional complicating factors will make this decision even harder.
A change in attitude towards the particular needs of men is long overdue, recent reports about male domestic abuse again highlight the differential in support offered to men and this needs to be addressed. Ultimately counselling services need to be able to reflect the needs of the community it serves, the more that men seek out counselling services, and experience positive outcomes, this will reflect positively in more men taking up counselling training to make a career in this area.
In a sector which is so dominated by the female gender, it is surely incumbent upon the professional institutions, and training organisations and employers to make every attempt to redress the balance. The promotion of Counselling as a viable and rewarding career for males, and potentially the positive selection of male counsellors into public sector roles wherever possible would be a move in the right direction.
Nigel Beaumont MBACP
Learning to Love Yourself
We are all looking for love and acceptance of some kind; however that can prove hugely difficult for some of us, particularly if we aren’t able to love or accept ourselves. Low self-esteem can cause terrible emotional pain and self-doubt.
The great news is that we can overcome these issues; we can learn to think more positively about ourselves whatever our age or situation in life. We can develop confidence in our abilities and accept those things we aren’t so good at without punishing ourselves. We can choose to put the past behind us and move towards the future with a more positive approach.
“It’s not what you are that is holding you back; it’s what you think you are not.” Anon
When I began training as a counsellor the tutor impressed upon our group the importance of loving ourselves. At first this concept felt extremely uncomfortable — loving myself didn’t sit well with me at all, I was nothing special, not particularly pretty, or particularly clever. I could love other people — that came easily to me — but to love myself seemed self-indulgent.
Over time, I came to understand that what my tutor meant was that we need to believe in, and think well of ourselves. It is fine to be aware of our faults but it’s not okay to let those overwhelm us to such an extent that we aren’t able to see or acknowledge the good that exists within us. If we aren’t able to love ourselves then we won’t be truly able to accept love from others — or in turn, fully love.
For some of us, learning to love ourselves can seem an insurmountable goal; however there are some changes you can make which should help you on your journey.
1. Think about how might it feel to stop focusing on the things you aren’t good at and be positive about the things you can do?
2. Begin to respect yourself by cutting down on the self-criticism and muffling your inner-critic.
3. Show yourself the same compassion you would show someone else. Be kind when you are suffering, give yourself a break when you going through a rough time.
4. Validate your own decisions and actions instead of being so focused on external validation from other people.
5. Stop comparing yourself to others and appreciate the special things that make you an individual.
6. Have faith in your abilities and don’t be disheartened by failure. Failure is a necessary part of life and personal growth. It makes us stronger!
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” William James (1842–1910)
Men and mental health
As with many mental health statistics, it is difficult to know if mental health figures represent what is truly happening. This is because these numbers can only tell us about mental health problems that have been reported or admitted to. It is expected that many cases go unreported and undiagnosed.
This is believed to be especially true when it comes to men's mental health.
At any one time it is believed that one in five women (19.7%) and one in eight men (12.5%) are diagnosed with a common mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.1
According to the Men's Health Forum, 73% of adults who 'go missing' are men and 87% of those sleeping rough are men. Looking at the prison system, the forum says men make up 95% of the prison population, with 72% of male prisoners suffering from two or more mental disorders.
In terms of substance abuse men are more likely to develop a problem. Men's Health Forum found that men are almost three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol. This equates to 8.7% of men, compared to 3.3% of women. Men are also three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women.
Depression in men
Depression is often found to be more difficult to diagnose in men. This is because men don't tend to complain about the typical symptoms, more often than not, it's the physical symptoms of depression that lead them to visit their doctor.
According to netdoctor.co.uk, the lifetime rate of depression is 12% in women and 8% in men. This marked difference could however be due to fewer men seeking help for depression.
Commonly associated with new mothers, postnatal depression can also affect new fathers. In a 2010 meta-analysis looking at 43 studies, it was estimated that 10% of new fathers around the world suffer from postnatal depression.2
A survey was carried out by the National Childbirth Trust between 2013 and 2014. This found that among the 296 new fathers surveyed, over a third (38%) said they were concerned about their mental health.3
Men and suicide
The main reason experts suspect more men are affected by mental health problems than is reported is the high number of male suicide.
Statistics compiled by the Men's Health Forum (July 2014) reveal the following:
(78%) are by men.
suicide is the biggest cause of death.
In the last five years the suicide rate in males aged 45-59 has increased significantly to 22.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
A 2012 study carried out by The Samaritans looked into the factors that might help to explain why certain groups of men are more likely than women to commit suicide.4
Two important risk factors found were age and socioeconomic status. As we can see in the above statistics, middle-aged men are particularly at risk, with numbers of suicides in males aged 45-59 increasing over the last five years.
Middle-aged men today face being in two very different generations, the pre-war 'silent' and the post-war 'me' generation. This means they may feel stuck somewhere between the strong, silent male stereotype of their father's generation and the more progressive and open generation of their son's.
On top of this, middle age is a time when the weight of previous long-term decisions reveal themselves. Making changes can come with a hefty cost, financially and socially. Feeling trapped under choices made earlier in life can seriously compromise mental well-being.
The study also revealed that the suicide rate was 10 times higher in men who have a lower socioeconomic status than affluent males. There has been a well-known link between unemployment and suicide for some time, but in this study the authors discuss why, beyond losing a job, socioeconomic status might affect suicide rate.
One potential factor the authors identified was the "femenisation" of employment, where there is a shift towards a service-orientated economy. It is thought that this may lead some men feeling like they have less of a purpose in the professional world. It is also hypothesised that men may feel as if they’ve lost a sense of masculine identity and male 'pride'.
The authors highlight that we do not yet know enough about the actual 'psychological routes' that lead to depression in men and suicide. For example, we do not know why or how personal problems, financial difficulties etc. lead to suicide more often in men than women.
One suggestion from the study is to develop effective interventions for young boys at risk as many of the patterns seen to lead to suicide in middle age often begin in youth.
How can counselling help?
The high rate of male suicide illustrated in the above section points to a concern that men are less willing to seek counselling than women. So, why is this? Experts agree that it is likely to be a combination of factors, from society's expectation of 'men' to a desire to solve one's own problems.
Mental health charities and the media have looked to change the stigma surrounding mental health and particularly the stigma of asking for support. The truth is, all of us need the support of others at some point in our lives - regardless of gender.
Talk therapy has been shown to help with many of the key mental health issues experienced by men, including stress, anxiety, addiction and depression. The key is recognising that you need support and seeking help before these problems get on top of you.
Men and counselling
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Rose Driscoll
20th June, 2016
In the UK men are at more risk of suicide than women; the statistics speak for themselves – three times as many men die at their own hand each year than women do. Suicide is the single most common form of death amongst men under 45. Because of men’s tendency to be more physical, the ways they choose to end their lives are more dramatic and dangerous which makes them more likely to succeed in their attempts. Men, quite clearly, do not seek help in the way that women do when they are in trouble. This explains why they are three times as many more women seeking help in consulting rooms up and down the country.
Men are still considered by society generally to be largely responsible for being the breadwinner, protecting their family, having a public place in the world, being ambitious, aggressive and focussed. Men get a sense of self-esteem from their work; that longed for promotion, the success of a project. They are more visible hence why more is expected of them. Being in charge, having power involves responsibility and a fall from grace (not getting that promotion for example) is more dramatic and has far-reaching consequences. It affects their families, their self-respect and the respect of others. Mothers are given respect in society. They are allowed to be at home, working behind the scenes. Men may not feel they have a central role in the domestic sphere which can further enforce a more isolated role for them.
Success outside the home, then, does not necessarily give men a support network if things start to unravel. In addition to this they find it difficult, if not impossible, to voice their failure. They have little vocabulary to engage in a dialogue about how they feel. Added to this we tend not to take men as seriously if they tell us they are feeling awful. Their natural reticence and shame means that they back off into platitudes very quickly. I’ll pull myself together; I’ll man up, it’ll pass once I get my head round it. It is more difficult to see a man cry because it is more seldom we see it.
This is even worse the further down the socioeconomic scale we go. Unemployed men who have suffered the break up of a family structure are far more likely to suffer from isolation. More so than a woman whose role, even now, is more often to be granted custody of their children after a separation or divorce. They are left isolated from their families with little financial backup and poor accommodation outside the family home. Unemployed men are far less likely to have financial back up from families or emotional back up from friends who are dealing with their own financial struggles. Men see their fears as weakness or self pity which they despise as it means that they aren’t ‘real men’. They see counselling as a luxury and do not prize their mental health.
Tom Hanks recently on Desert Island Discs told Kirsty Young that he discovered at the age of 13 that his vocabulary was one of ‘loneliness’. He spoke about the depression and pain he suffered as a child and a young man, something most men find really difficult. This represented a break from the norm. It was a refreshingly open admission, giving lie to the myth that ‘real’ men don’t suffer or experience pain. However, Tom Hanks has the freedom to talk about his loneliness and sadness as a world famous man.
Women come to counselling because they suffer from depression, anxiety and loneliness. They may have had awful childhoods and relationships of abuse and violence. They worry about their children, their parents, their friends. Men come with all this too but they come with another agenda: their masculinity, how it has been challenged, how it is to be managed. Women are more used to dealing with feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, their bodies offer them a challenge, childbirth and menstruation is messy. Even so this offers them creativity, they can if they so wish produce another human being and increasingly without a man present.
Testosterone is an entirely different matter. The sexual act for a man is a more active one. It is a ‘performance’ and it offers them an opportunity to brag to other men about their conquests. However, behind the bragging lies anxiety about performance, their ability to please a woman. What is a ‘real’ man? Males have been in crisis for decades, women can now do most things a man can do. It is little wonder that men more often feel isolated, a failure, worthless but also given their supposed role in charge of the whole societal structure, unable to voice their failure. They are thus in a double bind and take it out viciously upon themselves. They become suffused with the death wish to end their suffering and harsh punishment takes over. Talking has surely got to offer some hope. A more compassionate voice offers scope for improvement. Mental health is not an indulgence it is a precious, necessary commodity, which we ignore at our peril.