Do you need to talk to someone?
Call Samaritans on 116 123
Experiencing a mental health crisis?
Is your life at immediate risk?
Call 999 or go to A&E
This week - the 12th to 18th June - is Men’s Health Week. The organisers, Men’s Health Forum, have chosen the theme Men’s Health and the Internet, which explores the implications of accessing health information online.
It’s undeniable that the internet has the power to positively impact our lives in many ways, including how we take care of our health. It makes it easy for us to connect with loved ones, find resources and information, and it also makes certain health services more accessible, such as online therapy and virtual GP appointments.
But what about the downsides? Men’s Health Forum highlights the impact that smartphones have on our lives, citing how apps are purposely set up to give us hits of dopamine when we’re using them. In case you’re wondering, dopamine is a chemical in our brains which creates feelings of pleasure, reward and plays a role in concentration and our interests.
While this may sound good (who doesn’t want a dose of happy hormones?), it’s a double-edged sword. Our brain becomes trained to recognise that when we use our phones, we get a dopamine rush which makes us feel good, and this can trigger an addiction to our devices.
So, just by using our smartphones, we risk developing an unhealthy relationship with them. This could mean that we spend an excessive amount of time online, which interferes with our work and relationships (how many times have you been distracted by your phone when you’re with a friend or completing a task?). Or, depending on the apps we use, it could cost us money.
Excessive smartphone use has been associated with depression, anxiety and social anxiety. Plus, social media apps come with further risks, as people may feel compelled to compare themselves to others, which can trigger self-esteem issues.
In one study, 37% of men said that social media had a negative impact on how they feel, while the number of men who are worried about their appearance is rising, with 18 to 24 year olds (who have grown up in the smartphone generation) most affected. Clearly, our devices can take a toll on our mental health, so it’s important to be mindful about how we use them.
Sadly, many men don’t feel able to talk about their mental health. This is partly due to society’s expected gender roles; men may feel pressured to come across as strong, powerful and in control, which can make it difficult for them to open up and show their emotions.
This struggle is represented in the number of men accessing psychological therapies compared with women; only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are men. Figures also show that three times more men die by suicide than women, with men aged 40 to 49 having the highest suicide rates in the UK.
The good news is that the number of men who are more likely to see a therapist if they’re feeling low or worried is three times higher than it was in 2009. However, there’s still a long way to go before it’s the norm for men to feel comfortable when opening up about their mental health.
If you are feeling suicidal or having thoughts about self-harm, please know that there’s help available. In the case of an emergency, you can call 999 or Samaritans on 116 123.
Some people may think that opening up about your mental health is a sign of weakness, however this is absolutely not the case. It’s actually really brave to put yourself in a vulnerable position where you’re sharing how you feel. But, if opening up about your mental health is new to you, or something you’re worried about, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust.
There are lots of benefits that come with talking about our mental health. For one, voicing our feelings can help us to release tension and let go of negative emotions, rather than dwelling on them. It can also help us to process our emotions and make sense of a situation which enables us to move forwards.
By opening up to another person, we’re able to get their perspective; perhaps they’ve been through something similar and can offer helpful advice. Or, even if they just listen, it’s comforting to know that someone else understands what we’re going through and is looking out for us.
Talking about our mental health not only benefits us personally, it also normalises the conversation around mental health in general, which reduces stigma. When we open up to the people in our lives, they realise that they’re able to open up to us, too. This can have a ripple effect within our friendship and family dynamics, creating a culture where it’s safe - and even normal - to talk about our feelings.
Although it’s best to get help for mental health issues early on, it’s never too late to access support. If you’d rather speak to a professional about your mental health, or you think you may need treatment, making an appointment with your GP is a good place to start. They will talk you through your options, which may include medication or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT is a style of talking therapy that treats a range of mental health issues, from anxiety to depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can help you to address where your mental health issues are coming from and teaches you to challenge negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies. ieso offers online CBT which you can access discretely from your home. Find out more on our website.
If you’d like to learn more about men’s mental health and access online support for men, take a look at the following websites:
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