Men need mates for mental health

November is upon us, spring is in the air and the moustaches are out in force, bringing men’s health to mind. When it comes to mental health specifically, why is it we say that men need their mates?

While stress, anxiety and depression are conditions that affect everybody, we know from the research that men are more likely to soldier on without getting the support they need or even stopping to have a conversation about what they may be struggling with.

Recent research by the Movember Foundation reveals that a devastating number of men feel friendless. Their survey found that 51 percent of respondents had no close friends they felt they could turn to in a crisis.

In a similar study, a further 70 percent of respondents said they hadn’t reached out to others when they had problems because they thought it was just something they had to ‘suck up and deal with’.¹

In fact, while mental health issues affect men and women proportionately², Australian men suffer poorer health outcomes, are less likely to access health services or delay seeking professional advice, and consequently have lower rates of treatment and recovery for mental health issues.³

This is at odds with the fact that, when surveyed, men indicate that their greatest health concerns are social and emotional health and wellbeing.⁴

The sense of community and communication provided by mateship provides that crucial opportunity for dealing with mental health issues, not to mention serving as a mainstay of overall wellbeing.

Research shows that men with lower levels of social support are more vulnerable to psychological stress, whereas those with close social support experienced a buffer effect against depression.⁵ This may be due to the diffusing impact that social connection has on stress.

Research also shows that few men actually experience the level of social connectedness they need. This is particularly true of men between the ages of 35 and 54, who indicated that they were half as likely to make contact with friends compared to younger age groups.⁶ This may be due to the increasing demands of work and family life that occur during this time.

While family and partnerships can provide wonderful support, research has found that male bonding is more effective at lowering a man’s stress than time spent with a partner or family.⁷

Healthy ways to connect with mates

With today’s hectic pace of life, full work schedules, and family demands, many men find it challenging to find time for their mates. However, spending more time with mates boosts your mental health and wellbeing, sense of support and resilience, and can help you more readily cope with life’s other demands.

Try these strategies for increasing your connection with friends and improving your mental health too.

  1. Take time out. It is important for your health and wellbeing to allow time away from your daily demands and responsibilities. Find a time on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis to catch up with friends, even if it means scheduling it into your work calendar. Make it a part of your routine that is consistently honoured so it doesn’t get pushed by the wayside. When time to go out isn’t available, pick up the phone and connect briefly that way.
  2. Pick your mates wisely. We all have certain friends who bring out different sides of us, and can even help or hinder when it comes to our wellbeing. Be mindful of who you can spend quality time with, or who you can have a quality conversation with, and bring them into the fold. For instance, if you happen to be struggling, it would be more beneficial for you to spend time with someone you can discuss personal stuff with rather than a drinking buddy who makes you forget about what’s weighing on your mind.
  3. Humanise your work mates. We spend more time with our work mates than many of our friends outside of work, so there’s an important opportunity there to add a human dimension to those “robots” performing a function, make better friends, build a stronger support system, and even build on a team culture that welcomes the starting of conversations around wellbeing. It can be as simple as starting or ending a conversation with “so how’ve you been travelling lately?” or having walking or outdoor meetings or catch-ups that are more conducive to an open conversation.
  4. Join a men’s shed. For men who lack a social group or would like to make new mates, joining a men’s shed can provide a wonderful opportunity to do so. Men’s sheds are collective spaces for men to work together, remain physically active, contribute to the community, learn new skills, talk and get to know one another. They offer a safe space for sharing and communication, and research shows that involvement in men’s sheds confers benefits such as enhanced sense of purpose, improved self-esteem, decreased social isolation, friendship, and better mental health outcome.⁸ You can go to the Men’s Shed website to find one near you -  http://mensshed.org/find-a-shed/
  5. Revive an old hobby (or start a new one). Engaging in sports activities and hobbies is a great way of connecting with mates or making new ones. Try setting up a sports team with friends or colleagues, or simply join an established sports team or a new gym. This gives you the opportunity to develop new friendships in a fun and supportive atmosphere, or to build on the connection with guys you already know. If you already have a gym or walking/jogging routine and you take a solo approach, try partnering up with a training buddy. If sports aren’t your thing you could take an art class or join a community garden.
  6. Seek help. If you are struggling with mental health issues and still don’t feel comfortable turning to a mate for support, it is best to seek professional help. Reaching out to your GP is a great place to start, but you can also talk to a qualified counsellor at your workplace EAP (Employee Assistance Program) if this is available.

Good mental health is promoted by factors such as a sense of community and connection, experience of positive emotion, and a feeling that life is meaningful; all of which mateship provides. Make building friendships a priority, and see your enjoyment of life and mental health improve.

Helena Kuo is a Partner at En Masse, a provider of mental health and wellbeing programs. Contact Helena: helena.kuo@enmasse.com.au

References

  1. Sarah Berry, ‘Millions of men have ‘no close friends’’, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/millions-of-men-have-no-close-friends-20151116-gl03cp.html, November 2015.
  2. ‘Depression in men’, Beyond Blue, https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/men/depression-in-men, 2016.
  3. Gary Misan, Peter Sergeant, ‘Men’s sheds - a strategy to improve men’s health’, Centre for Rural Health and Community Development, http://www.ruralhealth.org.au/10thNRHC/10thnrhc.ruralhealth.org.au/papers/docs/Misan_Gary_D7.pdf
  4. Gary Misan, Peter Sergeant, ‘Men’s sheds - a strategy to improve men’s health’, Centre for Rural Health and Community Development, http://www.ruralhealth.org.au/10thNRHC/10thnrhc.ruralhealth.org.au/papers/docs/Misan_Gary_D7.pdf
  5. Ozbay F, et al. ‘Social Support and Resilience to Stress’. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2007 May; 4(5): 35–40.
  6. Darragh O’Keeffe, ‘Middle-aged men missing out on friendship can face physical and mental health risks’, ABC Health News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-28/men-without-mates-face-physical-and-mental-health-risks/7357484, April 2016.
  7. Sarah Berry, ‘Millions of men have ‘no close friends’’, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/millions-of-men-have-no-close-friends-20151116-gl03cp.html, November 2015.
  8. Gary Misan, Peter Sergeant, ‘Men’s sheds - a strategy to improve men’s health’, Centre for Rural Health and Community Development, http://www.ruralhealth.org.au/10thNRHC/10thnrhc.ruralhealth.org.au/papers/docs/Misan_Gary_D7.pdf