Men’s mental health awareness week runs from 13th-19th June this year, and is a chance to put the spotlight on raising awareness of the importance of men reaching out for mental health support. Statistically we know that men are less likely to reach out for help, whether that be professionally or just with family and friends, and so this week is vital in letting men know that there is support out there, and it is okay to not be okay. This week I sat down and talked to Chris Oldfield, one of the co-hosts of the Leva Clinic podcast, who is also a medical student living with chronic pain. We had a chat about some of the barriers men face when reaching out for help, and how we can best support men when they’re struggling.
Whilst we definitely need to work on encouraging men to reach out for professional mental health support, Chris really emphasised the need for more conversations to happen with friends and family. “I think personally that female friends are much more likely to ask me ‘how are you doing?’ and so I think that getting men to ask, to look out for their friends, to ask other friends, to check in on them, is really important because it’s a big admission to make yourself”. Chris stressed the importance of normalising these conversations, and that if men haven’t seen those conversations happen between the other men in their life, that contributes to the stigma that affects men who are struggling mentally. “If all your male friends and family have never asked you for support, you’ve never heard them discussing mental health, then a man will be more likely to think ‘oh, no one else has had this so I shouldn’t have this either’”.
When talking about mental health awareness campaigns and the impact they can have, Chris shared that he thinks campaigns have more impact when they’re encouraging these everyday conversations. “I think it is that first step of encouraging them to speak to their friends; that would be the biggest change. For some people, this could be more accessible than immediately reaching out to mental health services. I think that mental health awareness campaigns to encourage conversations, to encourage checking up on friends would be the best first step in my opinion”.
As someone who also lives with chronic pain we delved into the connection between the two as well. “I think that chronic pain and mental health are very closely interlinked, to the extent that someone living with chronic pain might not always be able to differentiate what is causing a change to either one of them”. We know that exercise can massively help mental health, but also that when you’re struggling the most, it’s difficult to do the things that we know can help us the most.
When it comes to both mental health and physical health we know that preventative measures can be one of the most helpful tools to focus on. “Firstly I think one of the biggest difficulties with both chronic pain and mental health is that for neither of them there is a sudden fix, so the best management for both chronic pain and mental health are preventative measures. And that’s very difficult when your mental health is bad and you know that doing exercise today will help. And so I guess my advice would be that even if it seems that it might not be something that you want to do the most, preventative health measures are the best option for both mental health and chronic pain”.
Finally, Chris spoke about the importance of someone just listening, something that we can all easily do more of in our lives. “I think that feeling like you’re alone in what is happening is a big exacerbator in mental health problems so a conversation where you give no advice to someone but you just listen to them and you understand what they’re saying can help someone to feel a lot less isolated”.
This men’s mental health awareness week, why not check in on the men in your life, let them know that you’re there for them, that they’re not alone and it’s okay to be struggling. Small actions can make a big impact.
Check out The Leva Clinic’s ‘The Pain Podcast’ to hear more from Chris.