Written by UKCP psychotherapist, Brian Shand
Last year, male suicide rates reached their highest in two decades. The data from the Office of National Statistics showed that men accounted for 75% of all suicides registered in 2019. And men aged 45-49 remain the most at risk group.
The pandemic has put the most vulnerable at even higher risk, with the threat of unemployment, homelessness and continued uncertainty greatly affecting their ability to cope with difficult feelings and open up.
Some men have a real inability to speak openly about emotions because of societal expectations. This may be connected to a diminished capacity to spot mental health problems in oneself and a lower likelihood of seeking help. Something the stats do suggest.
But male identity is changing, as we know. You only need to go for a walk to see men pushing buggies or carrying babies, perhaps while being on paternity leave or being a house husband, and for decades musicians from David Bowie to Frank Ocean have been stretching the boundaries of masculinity. Change is happening too in the specific area of men’s mental health, helped by the likes of Princes William and Harry. It’s becoming more acceptable for men to explore psychotherapy or counselling. But then that goes for women too. The ‘taboo’ of talking cures is eroding.
My own experience as a psychotherapist – and that of some of my colleagues – does not comfortably fit the traditional view of masculinity. It goes without saying that the men I encounter professionally are willing to consider or to go into therapy. Those who think it’s a load of hogwash tend not to get in touch.
For some men it is easier to approach a male therapist in the first instance, just as some women may prefer to see a female practitioner. Perhaps that’s more down to a person’s experiences, pre-conceived notions or family background.
The men who do enter therapy sometimes can struggle at first to talk about feelings, but that often changes quickly. It’s not that they can’t do it, more that they’re not used to doing it.
Surprisingly perhaps, once men and women really engage with therapy, I don’t perceive a great deal of difference between the way they communicate and display emotions. This is particularly clear in therapy groups where I can watch them working together and make comparisons.
As for what they get out of psychotherapy, I’m pleased to say that I see both men and women benefiting significantly from it. Most people gain at least something from therapy and many either achieve what they wanted to achieve when they went into the process or undergo quite radical change. At the end of it all, we therapists are not treating men, we’re not treating women, we’re treating people.
If you are interested in finding a therapist who can help support you during difficult times then visit the UKCP find a therapist search to find one near you.
For immediate help with suicidal thoughts:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47
The Samaritans 24-hour helpline, call: 116 123
Brian Shand is a UKCP psychotherapist and blogger, you can find more of his blogs on his website.