November, it’s crept up on us faster than we could have ever imagined. With the weather heating up and the beaches slowly infiltrated by backpackers in bikinis, the eleventh month of the year marks the true beginning of the silly season. But November also brings us to an important cultural point of reference: Movember. Since 2004, the men’s health movement has used our woolly and wild faces as a conversation starter, encouraging men to be open and honest about a number of key concerns, while also promoting positive support from the wider community. This year, it lands at an important time.
Movember in 2021
With the impact of the ongoing global pandemic still being felt across the board, it’s never been more important to take stock of your mental and physical health. According to Professor Matt Bambling, Clinical Psychologist and Chair of Psychological Science at the Australian College of Applied Professions, the lifetime prevalence for a man receiving a diagnosis of a mental health disorder is about 25%. Within the last 12 months, 15% of Australian males received a diagnosis.
“There is a strong relationship between male mental health issues and employment, financial and relationship problems. The lack of help-seeking behaviour of men may also mean increased risky behaviours, including self-harm or suicide,” Professor Bambling said. “Major depression creates the single biggest risk of suicide for men and cannot be overlooked when talking with those who are showing signs that they need help.”
Australia at a Glance
In Australia, the situation is more complex. With research suggesting that men are around half as likely as women to seek help if they develop mental health problems, the rate of diagnosis may be higher than reported. The issue stems from cultural stigma, which Professor Bambling explained is, while not unique to Australia, inherently different Down Under than other regions.
“There are strong social gendered norms around masculinity in Australia that might make it difficult for men to admit they need assistance and in many cases make it hard for them to identify they are in trouble,” the mental health expert said. “For example, emotional expression may be more about doing, for example doing things with mates, rather than talking things through with others.”
For Aussie blokes, the mental blockade can manifest in an assortment of ways, some more dangerous than others. In certain instances, those suffering from poor mental health may simply drink more or indulge in risky behaviour, isolate themselves, or think that they can manage on their own. As Professor Bambling explained, by the time men seek assistance, they are also likely to be in much worse psychological shape than might be the case for female counterparts.
The statistics, while damning, aren’t exactly new. For years, we’ve known that there is a disproportionately high rate of suicide and poor mental health among men, so, why isn’t the needle turning? Well, according to Professor Bambling, it is – It simply takes time.
“Traditional male stereotypes promote men as the hunters, heroes, strong and able to handle anything as they are stoically self-sufficient. Therefore, the emotional side may not be well developed for most men unless they have had good role models for male expression or are particularly self-aware,” he said.
Importantly this is not to say that most men cannot do it. Merely that many men are not adequately equipped to naturally monitor their thoughts and feelings, talk about their concerns, or seek emotional support, compared to female socialisation measures.
“Women tend to seek support from others when dealing with concerns, whereas men tend to find this difficult to do or even consider. When encouraging men to talk, give them time, ask clear questions, and reassure them that what they are going through is a perfectly normal reaction to their situation and help is available,” Professor Bambling said. “Historically there has been implicit assumptions of seeking help as embarrassing or a sign of weakness. However, I am pleased to say that over the last 10 years men have become much more open to seeking psychological support, so this appears to be slowly changing for the better.”
Mental Health Without the Moustache
With Professor Bambling’s insights on hand and Movember in full swing, we took a deep dive into mental health methodology. The current movement is helping to kick things off, giving men a new chance to speak up and make positive changes, but it’s not just men who benefit from the talk.
“Growing a moustache and supporting guys participating in Movember is a great thing to do to support men’s mental health. Encouraging open conversations around men’s mental health through work campaigns, or even in social networks and at the community level is very important,” he said. “My hope is that Movember will raise awareness that mental health in men is not simply a gendered subcategory of mental health problems, but rather men are part of a family, they are partners, parents, and friends, and their wellbeing affects everyone.”
With that in mind, the mental health expert shared his insights into supporting and caring from your own and others’ mental health, moustache or no moustache. Here’s his advice:
1. Stay Socially Connected
According to the Clinical Psychologist, staying socially connected is one major strategy for boosting your mental health. While it may sound simple, the impact of getting out and about, even when you don’t want to can be resounding. “Social withdraw is a classic male coping strategy that does not work. Visit, call and get them out of the house and connected with family and friends,” he said.
2. General Health Behaviour
Further to that point, general health behaviour can also play a significant role in your overall demeanour. Exercise is a powerful de-stressor and antidepressant, getting active regularly will help a lot. “Advising men not to overuse alcohol or other drugs as a way of coping, to eat well and look after their sleep patterns can make a huge difference to the severity of symptoms and recovery.”
3. Take Care of Finances
As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic and associated lockdowns, issues relating to financial burden can be greatly exasperated during difficult times. This, in turn, can add pressure to the mix, causing stress and hitting your happiness hard.
“Mental health problems are an important cause of unemployment and hardship in Australia,” Professor Bambling said. “So taking care of finances, and keeping up with responsibilities will help reduce the likelihood of negative financial outcomes.”
4. Have the Talk
Finally, it’s time to look interpersonal. Take stock of those around you and think about their actions. Charting their behaviour will allow you to better understand what they are going through and help you to tailor your support.
“Perhaps most essential, if there is a man in your life, who you think might be struggling, ask them ‘are you ok’. Have the tough conversations and encourage them to seek extra support through a variety of different services, including, their GP, a psychologist or counsellor, or a call to lifeline etc,” Professor Bambling said.
It goes without saying, but Movember is a time to bring things to the surface. Sure, growing a moustache is cool, but using the lessons you’ve learned through Movember to support your mates throughout the years? That’s the real challenge. If you want to donate to Movember or learn more about the global men’s health movement, visit the link below.
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