Jon (not his real name) followed me into the counselling room, sat on the chair with his arms folded over his chest, looked at me and said ‘what can counselling do for me, it’s only for people who are mentally ill’. He was in his fifties, worked as a lorry driver until recently when he was made redundant, and considered himself a ‘real man’. He didn’t want to be in the room, but had been referred by his GP.
Putting some of this into context, Jon had been born into a family in a rough area and had attended difficult schools. He had been in a bit of trouble with the odd fight and drugs. His GP had diagnosed him as having depression.
We started our work together. His story was harrowing. His father had been abusive (physically and emotionally) to both Jon and his mother leading to Jon being regularly ‘beaten up’.
This was the first time that Jon had ever discussed his past, and how he felt about it. He hadn’t discussed it with his wife or children. He said ‘how could I admit that I felt that I couldn’t cope, I had to be strong for them, I had to be a man. How could I turn up to work and be a wimp’.
As the weeks unfolded, Jon became more and more comfortable about discussing his emotions with me. He began to feel better, and found that he could face life again. He picked up on his music and found that he could have a more open relationship with his wife and children. Jon discovered that it was OK to be a man, and to have emotions and to discuss them.
The statistics tell their own story:
- Three out of four deaths by suicide are committed by men.
- One in eight men in the UK are diagnosed with a mental health problem.
- On average thirteen men end their life by suicide in the UK each day.
- Suicide is now the leading cause of death in the UK for people aged between 20 and 34.
So why is depression so prevalent amongst men, and why is the suicide rate so high?
Jon’s story shows how he felt he had to be strong and silent. It seems that many men find it difficult to share their problems. Rather than getting help when needed the emotions are repressed and not dealt with, leading to rather more major issues later, often in depressive episodes.
As a male, I was brought up with the expectation of demonstrating a strong male stereotype. I was expected to do well at sports and academically. I was expected to be a ‘breadwinner’ in a male professional capacity.
Perhaps, the change or dilution of traditional male and female roles also lead to confusion. Are young men supposed to hold doors open for women, are they meant to pay on dates? How does this work alongside feminist views? I am not taking any position here, but wonder how it all impacts on individuals in a fast changing and confusing world.
Early intervention can help to prevent concerns and worries from becoming a crisis. Seeing a counsellor at an early stage can help to head off a spiral into depression. Sometimes all it takes is to be listened to, perhaps for the first time ever. A counselling session is confidential. Nobody needs to know that you are seeing a counsellor.