If you’re feeling down or not quite yourself, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. There’s support available – it’s just a matter of reaching out.
In this article, we chat with Bluff Road Psychology organisational psychologist Paul Clifford about why it can be difficult for men to seek help and how to know when it’s time to see a health professional.
Why do some men feel a stigma about mental health?
There are many reasons why men may be hesitant to seek help, according to Paul. Among them may be harmful societal notions that men should be ‘strong’ and ‘get on with it’.
“Particularly in the formative years of a boy, there’s so much pressure to become what a man is ‘supposed’ to be,” Paul said.
“There’s a lot of pressure to ‘toughen up’, not to cry and not to be too sensitive. What that does is it discourages boys from becoming more self-aware of their feelings. I think it would be fair to say I’ve seen more resistance in men than in women and more signs of lack of awareness about their emotions.”
So, what signs and symptoms should you look out for?
Beyond Blue lists the following signs of depression:
- avoiding going out
- being unproductive at work/school
- withdrawing from close family and friends
- relying on alcohol and sedatives
- not doing usual enjoyable activities
- an inability to concentrate
- lacking in confidence
- tired all the time
- sick and run down
- headaches and muscle pains
- churning gut
- sleep problems
- loss or change of appetite
- significant weight loss or gain.
While there are different types of anxiety conditions, each with different features, common symptoms (as listed by Beyond Blue) often include:
- Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
- Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsessive thinking
- Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life.
“There could be many different signs, and often they are quite idiosyncratic to an individual,” Paul said. “There can, however, be particular themes that come out in a person’s story. It might be particular words or phrases someone says.”
“In terms of signs, what I find a lot of the time is that a person’s natural defences come to the fore. So, it might be that they use various tactics to avoid talking about the more difficult issues.”
How to improve your mental health
Paul said when it comes to mental health, you need to take a multi-faceted approach.
Start with the basics – exercise regularly, eat well and get plenty of sleep. Try to enjoy hobbies that make you feel good, whether it’s gardening, playing a round of golf or going for a surf.
Connecting with others is also critical to our wellbeing, so take the time to catch up with your mates and family regularly. If you’re feeling lonely or disconnected, joining a club or sporting team could be a great option.
Paul said it’s also important to challenge negative thoughts and understand the connection between thoughts and emotions, which can be difficult for some people.
“A lot of the time, the things that people have said to themselves have no basis,” Paul said. “They might be telling themselves ‘I don’t measure up’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘nobody likes me’, etc., but there may be no evidence for that. This, in turn, can lead to catastrophising.”
Paul said sometimes in order to feel better, people have to tackle underlying issues that run deep. That’s where a professional can help.
When to seek help
If you’re feeling down or anxious for an extended period of time, it may be worth talking to someone. Start by sharing your feelings with friends and family who can support you along the way.
It’s also a good idea to speak to a health professional about how you are feeling. At Bluff Road Psychology, there’s a team of highly regarded psychologists who can provide advice.
“It’s important not to wait until things get really bad and to identify how you are feeling early,” said Paul. “Even if you are free of debilitating depression and anxiety, you still might not be happy. But with the right support, you can actually go from okay to thriving.”
“Bottom line: it’s always a good time to seek help.”
About Paul Clifford
Paul Clifford is an organisational psychologist who consults at Bluff Road Psychology three days a week in a one-on-one counselling capacity.