Prioritize your MENtal health

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Christmas can be a stressful time. There is growing concern about the high level of suicide among young men, but men in general are more reluctant to seek out support when suffering from mental health problems. While the advice here applies to everyone, men can be more vulnerable, partly because they often bottle up their emotions and feel they have to be seen to be “strong”.

Even if you are feeling fine now, you probably have, or will have to deal with moments of great distress in your life; it could be grief, it could be bullying at work, sadness over the breakdown in a relationship, or even a general malaise with the state of the world. There are so many reasons we won’t try to list them all, but everyone goes through challenges at one time or another and even if this isn’t you right now, look around at your friends and check in on them. Ask them if they want to go for a coffee, a walk, go to the cinema, just ask them how they are. If you’re fine right now, that’s great, but it’s still a good idea to look at what you can do to improve your own resilience. Don’t wait for the crisis to arrive.

It’s still a good idea to look at what you can do to improve your own resilience”

Eurostat statistics show that the rate of suicide has been level and even decreasing in many countries, however the rate of suicide among men is much higher for men than women. This is so tragic and so unnecessary, we need to ask ourselves why men are not seeking help. Nobody wants to look like they aren’t coping, people often put on a brave face, this is especially the case for men. Clichés like ‘man up’, ‘take it like a man’, ‘men don’t cry’ certainly don’t help. Men are often under tremendous pressure to be the ‘bread winner’ or to be stronger than anyone else. Even in the reporting of recent conflict, the figures for women and children killed are considered worse than men dying – as if this wasn’t also an outrage. Women are much more likely to talk about their emotions, to open up, we need to make this as natural for men. 

“The rate of suicide among men is much higher for men than women”

While society often pressures men to portray a tough exterior, it is crucial to remember that taking care of your mental well-being is equally as important as physical fitness. 

Here are a few tips to help

Break the stigma: The first step towards better mental health is breaking the stigma surrounding it. Men are often conditioned to hide their emotions, which can negatively impact their mental well-being. It is essential to encourage open discussions about mental health, sharing feelings, and seeking professional assistance when needed. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Men are often conditioned to hide their emotions”

Establish healthy coping mechanisms: To maintain good mental health, it is important to establish healthy coping mechanisms. Engaging in physical activities such as exercise, sports, or yoga can help reduce stress and improve mood. Additionally, finding creative outlets like painting, writing, or playing an instrument can serve as cathartic means of expression. Writing down your thoughts can help a lot. 

Prioritize self-care: Self-care should be a central aspect of every man’s mental health routine. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and trying to make sure you exercise regularly. Taking time for oneself, indulging in hobbies, and engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation are also crucial for promoting positive mental well-being. It’s important to try to find time for you – this can be difficult with busy periods of work, but taking time out will probably also bring benefits to your working life.

Cultivate social connections: We are social animals, we need people, it isn’t always easy to make new friends after your university years, but there are avenues, like joining sports clubs, a walking group, and engaging in community activities. Join a class, volunteer with a charity –Together features a different charity in every edition. Try to be open, approachable and take a risk and start a conversation: What did you think of the game, walk, class? Yes, it’s a bit of an effort, but you get out of life what you put in. 

Practice mindfulness and stress management: Stress is an inevitable part of life, but managing it is crucial for mental well-being. Practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and improve overall mental health. It is essential to learn how to identify and manage stress triggers effectively, whether through self-reflection or seeking professional guidance. A short burst of exercise – either a fast-paced walk or even better a short run – can work wonders. 

Limit excessive use of alcohol or drugs: These may temporarily mask underlying issues but they can worsen mental health problems in the long run. Reducing and limiting substance use is vital for maintaining good mental health. Seek healthy alternatives to cope with stress or negative emotions. Maybe use some self-talk, “when I’m stressed I have a large camomile/green tea”, “when I’m stressed I go for a 20 minute walk and take it out on the pavement”… whatever works for you. If you have a more serious problem think of joining an organisation like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards better mental well-being”

Seek professional help: If feelings of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns persist, seeking professional help is vital. Mental health professionals can offer guidance, therapy, or medication if necessary. Remember that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards better mental well-being. 

In a world that often expects men to be strong, it is crucial to prioritize mental health. What’s more is that by talking about your own struggles or difficulties with others it often helps them. Always try to listen empathetically, you don’t have to find solutions and your friend doesn’t necessarily want solutions, but sometimes just airing some of your fears or worries helps to put them into perspective or relieve tension. The tips above apply to everyone, but please keep a special eye out for your male colleagues, friends and relatives, old and young alike, because we’re all in this together.

One organization that is there to help is the Community Help Service (CHS), it is a non-profit organization established in 1971 as a resource for the English-speaking expatriate population of Belgium. Since then it has developed its telephone Helpline, its Mental Health Centre and its Educational Testing Services to encompass the many different expatriate communities in Belgium who find it easier to use English rather than one of the official languages of Belgium. Since CHS has been in existence it has built up an expertise, second to none, in providing solutions, through therapeutic support, to the range of difficulties encountered by the people who turn to it in times of stress.

www.chsbelgium.org