Struggling to speak out about your own mental health or want to support a friend? We ask mental health speaker for Time To Change Lee Cambule to share his own experience with depression and his advice for tackling the stigma around men’s mental health.
“I’ve been volunteering for the Time To Change campaign for a number of years and a big part of my work is standing in front of groups of strangers to talk about my journey,” explains Lee.
“I openly speak about my depression and thoughts of suicide. For me, the big message I try to communicate is that it only takes small acts of kindness to make a real difference to someone dealing with a mental health problem. A cup of tea with a family member; a brisk walk with a friend; even a random conversation with a stranger can be the catalyst for improving your wellbeing.”
However, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health. For men, this isn’t helped by phrases such as “man up”, “alpha male” and “stay strong”. “They all fuel this idea that admitting you need help or support is a sign of weakness,” explains Lee.
1. Showing so-called weakness can be a strength
“I think one of the biggest barriers for men is understanding that it’s acceptable to experience poor mental health – it doesn’t mean they are weak or inferior. When facing these challenges, too many men feel that their only options include running away and hiding their feelings – or worse, suicide – and they rarely consider that their first option is to reach out and talk to someone.”
2. Think about what’s behind the bravado
“The concept of the ‘man’s man’ is now archaic: he was the breadwinner, the fighter and the reliable rock. This attitude can put a lot of pressure on men to live up to unrealistic expectations. Bravado can be toxic and lead to a build-up of emotion, which might spill out in negative ways unless it is managed and supported.
“More men need to realise they have the power to control it – if they are willing to seek help. This is part of Time To Change’s latest mission, called Ask Twice. Sometimes we say we’re fine when we’re not, so if your friend is acting differently, try asking them twice whether they’re OK. It might just encourage them to open up.”
3. Join the men’s club (but not as we know it!)
“If you’re struggling for someone to talk to, it might help to reach out to the other men in your life – fathers, brothers, sons, colleagues or friends. There is tremendous camaraderie among a group who look out for each other and sometimes they can understand how you feel more than others.”
4. Your GP is there to help
“In my opinion, the healthcare service has evolved a lot. A doctor can direct you towards experienced mental health practitioners, just as they’d refer you for a physical injury.
“It took me four years of suffering to finally reach out and ask for support from my GP (and then later, a qualified counsellor), but once I’d taken that first step, the rest came easier. There are many professional bodies and organisations out there dedicated to providing amazing support services, such as The Samaritans. It can all start with a simple description of how you’re feeling, so be as honest as you can when opening up.”
5. There’s a big release in crying
“I’ve found crying is a brilliant release valve, helping me to let go of some of the pressure that’s built up. It’s an individual, emotional response and isn’t something that should be regulated by society’s expectations.
“This is the next step in our fight against stigma and discrimination around men’s mental health. We’ve spoken about how it’s okay to talk; now we have to show people that it’s okay (and even helpful) to cry.”
Want to learn more about how talking therapy can help your mental health? Read our guide.