When we think about our health, it’s easy to immediately consider aches and pains, a cough or cold, or a more serious illness as the chief contributors to a weakened condition.
However, mental health can be every bit as serious as a physical complaint.
It’s a well-reported statistic that suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. Despite this, research has found that just 7% of men prioritise mental health over their physical health.
Looking after your mental health is crucial, especially after a pandemic during which many more people have struggled. Read on to learn more, and for some practical ways that you can take care of your own mental health.
3 in 5 men have never sought help for their mental health
A recent online survey by Simplyhealth found that more than 15% of men don't feel comfortable speaking with anyone about their health, even their family or friends. It also revealed that four in five men said they found it easier to talk about their physical health than their mental health.
The online survey was the starting point for a new campaign which focuses on “improving men's mental health and fostering open, honest conversations.”
Despite much progress in encouraging men to open up about their issues, traditional stereotypes continue to play an important role in preventing men from talking openly about their mental wellbeing. Almost two-thirds (60%) of survey respondents said that gender expectations stop men from seeking support.
3 in 5 men said they had never sought professional help for their mental health, while 17% said that they didn't want to be a burden on the NHS with many feeling their issues “weren't serious enough”.
Commenting on the survey, Simplyhealth clinical director, Catherine Rutland, said: “Taking small steps can make a big difference to improving health and wellbeing. But even baby steps can be tough when generations of gender expectations block the way.
“It's time to tackle tradition and empower men to talk - and make the right choices - so they can lead physically and mentally healthier lives.”
Mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic
According to research reported on the gov.uk website, mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic.
The proportion of adults aged 18 and over reporting a clinically significant level of psychological distress increased from 20.8% in 2019 to 29.5% in April 2020. This has been broadly corroborated by other studies looking at anxiety, depressive symptoms, loneliness, sleep, and stress.
More recent evidence suggests that there was a second deterioration in the mental health and wellbeing of Brits between October 2020 and February 2021. The fluctuating nature of these results coincides with the periods of national lockdown and high Covid-19 cases, followed by easing of lockdown and reducing cases.
Another large study of adults aged 18 and over found that more than a quarter (26.1%) of respondents reported self-harm thoughts and 7.9% self-harm behaviours at least once between March 2020 and May 2021.
The proportions were higher than had been found by other studies during the first two months of the pandemic, but comparable to results found in a similar study in the US in May 2020.
Workers “hiding” mental health conditions from colleagues
So, we’ve seen that many people have experienced poorer levels of mental health during the pandemic, with men treating mental health issues less seriously than their physical health.
Now, a new study has found that workers feel under pressure to disguise their mental health struggles from colleagues despite feeling less able to cope than they did before the pandemic.
About half (51%) of respondents to a survey published in the Guardian said they felt under pressure to put on a brave face at work, while 4 in 10 said they felt less resilient since the Covid crisis struck.
This research suggests that many workers are anxious about the return to the office, especially as they may be struggling with their mental health. Almost 1 in 5 surveyed said they were concerned about their stress being visible to others, while just over a quarter (26%) said they did not think they were coping.
Workers said that employers should help them by:
- Allowing greater flexibility in working hours
- Enabling time out to deal with personal commitments
- Paying more attention to their workload and work/life balance
- Offering “mental health days” off work.
3 practical things to do if you’re struggling with your mental health
Seek help straight away if you need it
If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, you should get immediate expert advice and assessment. Services and support are available, so please don’t be concerned that you won’t get help because of the pandemic.
You can call an NHS urgent mental health helpline at any time:
- For 24-hour advice and support – for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for
- To speak to a mental health professional
- For an assessment to help decide on the best course of care.
You can also call one of the many other help services available, that offer confidential support from trained volunteers.
- Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email email@example.com for a reply within 24 hours
- Text SHOUT to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text YM if you're under 19
- Call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline if you’re under the age of 18. The number will not appear on your phone bill.
Take steps to try and cope
There are a few coping mechanisms you could try if you are feeling anxious.
If you are finding it difficult to focus or are unsure how to manage your day, try writing down what you'll do next. This can help you feel more in control of the situation.
You could also try to write down how you are feeling. Reflect, try and clear your mind, and see if you can make sense of what you are experiencing. You can then delete what you have written!
Here are some other positive steps you can take.
- Take a break from whatever you are doing and focus on something else
- Get out into nature, even if it’s just for a short walk
- Focus on your breathing
- Listen to music – this can be relaxing and improve your mood.
Struggling with your mental health can leave you with lower energy levels and you might feel less active.
Regular exercise can boost your mood, and it's especially useful if you have mild to moderate depression.
Any type of exercise is useful, especially something that you enjoy. This might be walking, swimming, cycling, or playing a team sport.
To stay healthy, you should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. If you have not exercised for a while, start slowly, and aim to build up towards the 150-minute target.
Many people we speak to are worried that they won’t get the life insurance they need because they have pre-existing or previous mental health conditions.
As life insurance experts, we work closely with dozens of the UK’s top insurers to help people who have mental health conditions to get the cover they need. Get in touch with one of our experts to find out how we can help you.
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