Men are being urged to open up, not ‘man up’, in a new mental health book published today (Wednesday, 20 May) to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
The Big Boys Don’t Cry? self-help book, which has been curated by former school friends Patrick Addis and Fabian Devlin, is a collection of 60 stories by men – and partners of men – who share their real lived experiences and give advice for other men.
The backgrounds of the book’s male contributors are very diverse, with inclusions from lawyers, postmen, soldiers, construction workers, Big Issue sellers, and businessmen.
The causes of their mental illness vary greatly – from loss and bereavement, childhood bullying, and a chemical imbalance, to the violence of war, breakdown of a marriage, and sexual abuse – but they share common ways of finding their way back to mental health.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK in 2018 and three-quarters of these deaths (4,903) were among men. This proportional imbalance has remained the same since the mid-1990s.
In the book, Addis and Devlin draw together 10 key lessons* from the stories that can be learned by other men (and women) to help them stay mentally healthy:
- Visit GP
- Avoid alcohol/drug abuse
Endorsing the new book, well-known mental health ambassador Stephen Fry describes Big Boys Don’t Cry? as: “A brave and important book, providing a source of comfort and hope to anyone struggling with their mental health.”
Former England cricketer and Director of the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, Marcus Trescothick, features in the new book and says: “Too many men are suffering in silence and tragically taking their own lives.
“Big Boys Don’t Cry? shines a light on a number of men who have struggled with their mental health but who are now sharing their story to show other men that they are not alone; that help is out there; and that it’s time to open up, not man up.”
Another contributor to the book – Rhodri Jones, 38, a former Manchester United player – writes: “I’ve always been a perfectionist and a bit hard on myself – never satisfied with my achievements.
“These traits worked in my favour in driving me to get the high grades at school, and also to fulfil my dream of becoming a professional footballer with Manchester United.
“The problem was I had wrapped up most of my identity in football, so when injuries came along and ended my career prematurely in my early 20s it left a deeper void in my life than it should have done.
“Those same traits that once helped me succeed now turned against me. I felt worthless, like I’d let everyone down.”
Top 10 Lessons by men, for men:
1. Talking – without doubt the most important step you can take. Nearly every man in the book stresses how crucial it is to reach out to family and friends when you’re struggling, however impossible it may seem at the time. Not one of the men said they’d regretted opening up about their problems and many of them said it had literally saved their life.
2. Therapy – following naturally on from ‘talking’ is the advice from men to seek counselling. Whether it’s group therapy arranged by your local National Health Service, a peer-group or one-to-one therapy with a private therapist, the benefits of sharing your negative thoughts, previously locked inside your head, with an impartial and non-judgmental listener/s are immeasurable. Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which helps manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave, was a very popular approach taken by the men in this book.
3. Medication – many of the men writing in the book admit to feeling sceptical and afraid at first of taking antidepressants – often SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Citaloptam and Fluoxetine or Prozac – but found that medication really helped lift them out of a dark place. Combining prescribed medicine with another of the activities found on this list, especially talking therapy, is recommended as the best approach.
4. Visit GP – often one of the first steps that the men in the book took. Speaking to their doctor was the start of their recovery and just having a trusted, neutral person listen to their problems and offer guidance and support made the effort to pick up the phone and call the local surgery extremely worthwhile.
5. Mindfulness – the simple act of focusing on your breathing and learning to be present – not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future – is a surprising and enlightening gamechanger described by many of the men in the book who had previously thought meditation was, as one writer put it, ‘airy-fairy’. Definitely worth giving it a go, if you haven’t tried it before.
6. Exercise – whether it’s an individual activity like running, going to the gym or taking a yoga class – or a team sport like football, rugby and cricket – a large number of men pointed to the proven benefits of physical exercise. Despite often struggling with fatigue, listlessness and a lack of motivation, they found that even five minutes of exercise released those helpful endorphin chemicals that made them feel a whole lot better!
7. Self-Acceptance/Self-Compassion – learning to tame your inner-critic and accept yourself for who you are, ‘warts and all’, was seen as a key step in recovery for many of the book’s contributors. Being kind and compassionate to yourself, lowering your high standards and trying to avoid the pitfall of perfectionism were common themes within the men’s stories.
8. Avoid Alcohol or Drug Abuse – the message from men in the book is clear: turning to drink and drugs (or any other self-medication) to avoid your problems, although very tempting and understandable, is simply not the answer. Those men who have recovered, or are recovering from addiction, say that they only began to get better mentally when they became sober. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and their 12 Steps programme is cited as a great support for many men struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.
9. Faith – having a belief in something greater than yourself – be it God, Buddha, Allah or another higher power – is a great comfort to many of those who shared their story. In a world which places such a high value on commercial and material success, having something spiritual in their lives gave these men a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
10. Hobbies – finding something to be passionate about – just to distract yourself from the ‘grind in your mind’ – was recommended by many of the men in the book. Photography, gardening, Sudoku, a pet dog – whatever you’re interested in – try and make time for old hobbies and be open to new ones too.