Removing the taboos: how men are finding the courage to tackle mental health

Mental health awareness has come a long way in recent years. High profile campaigns with well-known people sharing their stories have all helped to reduce stigma, leading to record numbers of people deciding to ask for help to improve their mental health, writes Kevin Rozario-Johnson, Health in Mind, East Sussex NHS Talking Therapies Service. Provided by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Yet despite improvements in mental health awareness and more and more people feeling comfortable asking for help when they need it, this is not true for everyone.  A national survey of men showed 43% (2 in 5) say they regularly feel worried or low, yet only 36% of referrals to NHS Talking Therapies Services were from men. Tragically men account for 78% of deaths by suicide, many of whom have not previously sought any help.

Although the challenge is national, the same picture is true at a local level. In 2022 only 30% of referrals to the local East Sussex NHS Talking Therapies Service ‘Health in Mind’ were from men. We want this to change.

Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place from 15-21 May, gives us all the opportunity to reflect on those numbers and make sure everyone feels able to ask for mental health, when they need it, whatever their gender.

No shame in seeking support

There is no shame in asking for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

If you’re going through a low point or experiencing stress or symptoms of anxiety and depression, you can contact Health in Mind, free NHS Talking Therapies Service for East Sussex. Health in Mind provide a wide range of 1 to 1 therapies, courses and online programmes, which help anyone over 18 experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Access to the service is quick, with initial appointments typically within two weeks of referral.

If you’re nervous about seeking help, you may like to know the service is completely confidential. If you doubt whether it can make a difference, trust us it can. We know it takes a lot of courage to speak about how you feel for the first time, but we offer a safe space where you can do that, without judgement. And as we work together, we’ll help you better understand what is going on for you and provide you with the tools and strategies to take control of your mental health and life.

If you’re not sure whether what’s going on for you has anything to do with your mental health, that is perfectly normal. The symptoms of anxiety and depression can be hard to tell apart from the stresses and strains of normal life pressures. Symptoms to look out for might include lacking motivation, difficulties sleeping, feeling more emotional, low in mood or stressed. All of which can impact on our relationships, at home or at work. If you’re noticing any of these signs, we can help.

You might not even know what is wrong (many people who come to us don’t), but just one conversation with the Health in Mind team can be hugely helpful, and be the start of a better future.

If you’re worried about seeking help, you can take comfort in some of these things people have told Health in Mind after they found the courage to ask for help.

“I hate to think where I would be if I hadn’t reached out and I can honestly say that working with you has made me look at life again with a positive attitude and enjoy everything I have.”

Or this:

“I was nervous, but I needn’t have been. After decades of pain and worry I am now able to understand my situation and finally feel that I can actually start to move forward again.”

Reflecting on your mental health

The Health in Mind service can transform your mental health in as little as four-to-six weeks. In 2022, just under 60% of men who referred to Health in Mind began with significant symptoms of anxiety or depression, and at their end of their time with us, they reported almost no symptoms at all.

So, if we know that the support we provide is easy to access and that it can, and often does, change and save lives why do we receive fewer referrals from men?

There are many reasons, which are well evidenced in national research around this:

  • A sense of shame or embarrassment for seeking help.
  • A nervousness about how you might be perceived by others if you did.
  • You might not know what to expect from an NHS Talking Therapies Service.
  • You might doubt whether a service like ours can really make a difference for you.
  • You might feel scared or uncomfortable about talking about how you feel.
  • Or you might believe that the things you’re going through in daily life are nothing to do with mental health.

Getting help

If you, or someone in your life, could benefit from contacting our free service, then our advice is don’t put it off. You can find out more and self-refer online via the health in Mind website. Our team is ready to help you make positive changes.

Seeking urgent help

The East Sussex County Council’s mental health directory has a list of information to help with your mental health, this includes details of local and national support available.

If you have an urgent concern for yourself, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please don’t ignore the warning signs and seek help straight away.