‘Men, Women, Language & Mental Health’ – Jon Toulson
Let’s be honest, the stereotypes that men don’t show their feelings, or talk about them either, must have stemmed from some kind of truth and experience in society at some point, otherwise how does anything become a stereotype in the first place? However, when it comes to attitudes towards mental health, and our ability to talk specifically about this serious area of health and wellbeing, perhaps we are still living within the boundaries of these stereotypes, and colluding with society’s view about men in general!
The Men’s Health Forum1 is a registered charity based in London and their mission is simply “to improve the health of men and boys”.
One man in five (an alarming 20%) dies before the age of 65 2 – they want to change this statistic, and the meaning for men and their loved ones behind it.
In January 2018 the Men’s Health Forum published a report called “Mind Your Language – How Men Talk About Mental Health”2. It explores how men and boys tend to engage with, and talk about, mental health issues and reaffirms that men have a different approach to mental health than women, with rather worrying statistics that support this:-
- Men accounted for only 35% of people who accessed psychological therapies
- 73% of adults who ‘go missing’ are men
- 87% of rough sleepers are men
- men commit 86% of violent crime and are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime
Those who work with men’s groups understand the need to be mindful of the language we use to engage men in conversation about mental health, and other emotional issues.
Men might talk about “feeling down” or “low”, rather than “depressed”; some in the study reported that hearing “you look depressed” could mean many different things, but is generally unhelpful language for them.
Whereas younger men (aged 13 to 16) suggested that the term “depressed” was preferable to “sad”. They are also more comfortable with the term “emotional”, and would be comfortable making statements like “I am feeling emotional”. They also reported being comfortable with the terms “anxious” and “isolated”.
Neil, a Samaritans Listening Volunteer of over 15 years adds to this from his own experiences. Significantly most of the calls received are from women, and he believes men find it more difficult to find the vocabulary to describe their feelings; they may use language like “I feel gutted”, and when alternative and wider vocabulary is offered to them, they are slow to use it.
Where does all this leave us? The Mind Your Language report concludes that there is no “one size fits all” word or phrases to use, but broadly speaking ‘stress’, ‘stressed out’, ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘overloaded’ were endorsed by older men, while ‘emotional’, ‘depressed’ and ‘anxious’ are more widely acceptable to boys and young men, and so if your objective is engagement, use the terms men use rather than those in vogue at any given time in professional or academic circles.
The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily the views of the Springboard Consultancy Ltd.
- The Men’s Health Forum (menshealthforum.org.uk) Tel: 020 7922 7908
- “Mind Your Language”. Chris Stein © Men’s Health Forum Printed in the UK. ISBN: 978-1-906121-39-6 2018
- “Lost from view i – University of York.” york.ac.uk/inst/spru/pubs/pdf/Missingpersons.pdf Accessed 7 Apr. 2017
- “Rough Sleeping – about homelessness – definition and numbers – Crisis.” crisis.org.uk/pages/rough-sleeping.html. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017
- “Chapter 1 – Overview of Violent Crime and Sexual Offences 2012/13.” 13 Feb. 2014, ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences–2012-13/rpt-chapter-1—overview-of-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences.html. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017