During the month of November, the Canadian Mental Health Association Nova Scotia Division (CMHA NS) joins organizations around the globe in turning our focus to men’s mental health in recognition of Men’s Health Month.
This initiative aims to normalize conversations about mental health issues and reduce the stigma that often prevents men from seeking help.
“In my experience, men don’t discuss their mental health, they just don’t go there. Mind you, many men will have a drink or smoke after a long day as a means of coping, but never address the core reason for their self-medication,” said Keith Anderson, CMHA NS’s Provincial Lead of Peer Support and Community Suicide Prevention.
“Men are often less likely than women to seek mental health help for depression, substance addiction, and stressful life events, including anxiety and trauma.”
Anderson, along with CMHA NS Education Coordinator Glenn Rodgers lead a weekly virtual peer support group. Through this group, Anderson says they provide a safe sounding board from approximately eight men from across the province who attend regularly and say it benefits them in their daily life.
Signs and symptoms of mental health conditions may also present themselves differently in men.
For example, Anderson notes, men are more likely to describe their mental health concerns as physical symptoms such as headaches or chronic pain, which diagnostic tools tend to ignore. This link between signs of mental health issues and physical symptoms is often unrecognized and leads to undiagnosed, untreated men.
“Men often downplay their symptoms as a result of societal pressure and existing stigma,” Anderson adds.
But “I’m fine” can only get someone so far, he continues — especially since men are significantly more at risk of attempting suicide than women.
Middle-aged men (40-60) die by suicide more than anyone else, including young people and women (Statistics Canada, 2019).
Why are men at risk? Men are often socialized not to talk about their emotions, and therefore, men as a group may mask their stress and deal with emotional pain through harmful behaviours and actions, and sometimes suicide, instead of seeking help (Ogrodnickzuk & Oliffe, 2011).
“Just because it’s difficult to open up about mental health doesn’t mean that anyone should struggle in silence,” Anderson adds. “Too many men continue to feel isolated, a sense of being alone consumes them. They think it’s a sign of weakness to acknowledge these struggles. In fact, it is a sign of strength to reach out for support. Their lives can become healthier and full of hope.”
Erin Christie, Provincial Lead, Communications and Community Engagement
Need some help starting a conversation with the men in your life who might be struggling?
ALEC is four simple steps to help you navigate a conversation with a friend who might be struggling.
Start by asking how he’s feeling. It’s worth mentioning any changes you’ve picked up on. Maybe he’s spending more time at the bar, has gone quiet in the group chat, or isn’t turning up to social events. Whatever it is, he’s just not himself.
Use a prompt like, “You haven’t seemed yourself lately – are you feeling OK?”
Trust your instinct. Remember, people often say “I’m fine” when they’re not, so don’t be afraid to ask twice.
You can use something specific you’ve noticed, like, “It’s just that you haven’t been replying to my texts, and that’s not like you.”
Give him your full attention. Let him know you’re hearing what he’s saying and you’re not judging. You don’t have to diagnose problems or offer solutions, but asking questions lets him know you’re listening.
Ask a question like,
“That can’t be easy – how long have you felt this way?”
Help him focus on simple things that might improve how he feels. Is he getting enough sleep? Is he exercising and eating well? Maybe there’s something that’s helped him in the past – it’s worth asking.
Suggest that he share how he’s feeling with others he trusts. This will make things easier for both of you. And if he’s felt low for more than two weeks, suggest that he chat to his doctor.
Suggest you catch up soon – in person if you can. If you can’t manage a meet-up, make time for a call, or drop him a message. This helps to show that you care; plus, you’ll get a feel for whether he’s feeling any better.
CMHA NS Division offers programs and resources that connect those who identify as men with the right support, and equip them with the confidence and skills to reach out when it’s most needed.