The first step towards improving your mental health starts with just a few words.
As a psychotherapist and counsellor with over a decade’s worth of experience behind me, the last year has been a steep learning curve even for me. For so many of us, we have replaced the hustle and bustle of fast-paced lives with something slower, but being at home either alone, with a partner or housemate, and then a wider family, we have had to learn to adapt to changes in how we work, play, care for others, socialise and also take care of ourselves. For many of us, it has enabled us to simplify and pare down our routines, but we have also experienced the stresses involved with being at home more, the relationship struggles that can be highlighted or stem from that, as well as coping with the fact that an almost mystery virus has put a halt to our ordinary lives, as knew them.
I have experience in working with individual clients, couples and families, presenting with a wide range of issues, but wanted to concentrate here on men’s health and wellbeing. Wellbeing encompasses both physical and mental health: the two are finely interwoven, and hold each other up. If you want to improve how your body feels, it makes sense to help your mind, and vice versa.
Men’s mental health has been in the news in the last few years more than ever before, and that’s a good thing. Putting more resources online, having dedicated websites investigating men’s health, and having mental health champions such as author Matt Haig, musician Professor Green and actor David Harewood discussing their own experiences has been of great benefit. Roman Kemp’s recent BBC3 special, Our Silent Emergency has been a hugely popular watch, looking particularly at mental health issues affecting young men across the nation. It was one of BBC iPlayers most-watched shows, and I am in no doubt that young men have tuned in looking for guidance, and to perhaps see their own experiences reflected.
During lockdown, it has been a running theme that men often feel they need to be the strong protectors. It has been particularly difficult for men struggling with relationship issues, job changes and redundancy, physical health concerns, as well as caring for partners, children and parents requiring attention, whilst reducing the ability to engage in behaviours which aid mental stability: face-to-face communications, physical touch, and being able to participate in sporting events or team sports either as a competitor or a viewer. Everything from going to live gigs to attending a class you enjoy has stopped in terms of being physically present in one space.
However, the nature of mental health struggles may be set in a different landscape right now, but they still show up in similar ways, many of which are hidden. The good news is that any man can improve their mental health. It can start with the simplest of ways, whether it be spending less time in isolation, getting out for a walk or a run, visiting mates more often as much as current restrictions allow, and aiming to introduce a few healthier eating habits. It feels like so many of us have succumbed to a lockdown routine involving extra takeaways, getting used to our own company too much, and while lots of us have embraced the downgrading of restrictions, anyone suffering from anxiety may have become far too entrenched in staying at home, and looking inwards.
Men often ask me about therapy, and then say it isn’t for them, before they have even waited for my reply. They want to ‘fix’ themselves, on their own, without even talking to another human being: it may not surprise you that this option isn’t always successful. Therapy isn’t ‘just’ a last resort for any man facing a serious mental health problem, although that’s sometimes how it is seen. It really is for any man who lives and breathes: everyone has been through a childhood, life experiences and been involved in relationships. If you have come out of all three in great shape, and unscathed, then I am probably yet to meet you.
For many men, actually searching for a therapist, finding one you think you can work with, and turning up for your initial consultation is actually a hugely important step. Always remember that working with a therapist you feel you are ‘in tune’ with isn’t like being at school, or talking with a parent. A great therapist will certainly get you talking, and create a safe space for you, but the overall aim is that you show up and do the work, too. Never think any problem or mental health issue is too tough to be worked through: it takes time, soul-searching and commitment, but is a highly rewarding process.
Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing my clients thrive in their everyday lives, while they are working with me or when our time together ends. It is wonderful, most of all, to see their self confidence grow, and their relationships with others improve and prosper. Through dealing with what we have already gone through, and developing a way of finding our own solutions, we build a wellbeing toolkit for when life invariably throws up bumps along our own personal journeys.
Once you enter a therapist’s room for the first time, you can remove your fear of judgement, or try to solve everything you are going through in the space of just one session. However, you will find that by being provided with a safe, professionally-guided, atmosphere which is entirely exclusive to you, you can start with a few words about yourself, and begin the process of healing what has gone before, and creating a new, more secure, and uplifting blueprint for your mental health in the future.