When I do any public speaking or presentations about Men Tell Health or male mental health in general, one of the slides I use the most to set the tone is what I refer to as the 'Around 75%' one. Let me explain.
You can probably tell by the term 'Around', but these aren't exact figures, but 'around' 75% of people who go to see their doctor for their mental health are women, and yet around 75% of those people who take their own lives are men. Around 75% of those have never had access to mental health services.
Basically, that tells you that there are plenty of us blokes who give the doctor a wide berth when it comes to looking after our own mental health. Why this is the case? Well, each of us will have our own theories. Personally, when I realised things weren't right in my head and I was depressed, I didn't think twice about going, but I know that's not the case for everyone.
The thing is, everyone needs a support system, whether you're struggling or not. Friends count, so does family, therapists, parents, siblings and Doctors can be part of your network too.
If you haven't spoke to your Doctor about your own mental health, or are even in two minds (pardon the pun) about whether you even need to, allow us point you in the right direction and give you some friendly advice!
It's worth noting at this stage, that obviously we don't know what you're feeling or even if you have a diagnosable condition. We're building this blog around depression, which is starting point for many men, but if your condition is more 'serious' then it may well take it's own course.
WHEN DO I NEED TO GO?
If you have depression, even if it hasn't been officially diagnosed as such, you'll be going through certain feelings or emotions. Depression is probably the most common mental illness and it's a term many people will know, but it's a bloody complex condition.
The things that one person experiences may be different from what another will. They can each be depressed, but to very different degrees. We told you it was complicated.
That said, there is a list of symptoms that the NHS in the UK has compiled that might help. If you are (or have been) experiencing any of these for two weeks or more, then it's time to go see the Doc (by which we mean your GP, not the one from Back to the Future).
- Continuous low mood or feeling sad for no real reason.
- Low self-esteem.
- Feeling tearful.
- Intolerant of other people (not just those douchebags at work who think they're funnier than they are).
- No motivation or interest in things you normally enjoy.
- If you find it hard to make decisions.
- Not getting any enjoyment out of life.
- Feeling anxious or worried.
- Feeling suicidal or wanting to harm yourself.
- General lack of energy.
- Lack of sex drive / libido.
- Finding it hard to get to sleep or waking up much earlier than normal.
- Not doing well at work.
- Moving or speaking more slowly; feeling like everything is in slow-motion.
- Changes in appetite or your weight (up or down).
- Aches and pains that are inexplicable.
- Avoiding social engagement or taking part in fewer social activities with friends.
- Neglecting your hobbies.
- Difficulties in your home or family life.
It's not an exhaustive or particularly specific list we know, but you get the idea.
WHAT DO I EVEN SAY TO THEM?
When you speak to the Doctor, if you are feeling like this, it's important not to downplay them or feel embarrassed about admitting them. They'll all help to give the Doctor the full picture about what's going on and help you get better.
It may be useful to make your own list about how you've been feeling and the impact it's having on your day-to-day life. Be honest about it, even if it seems trivial to you.
They may also want to rule out other illnesses first. An over-active (or even under-active) thyroid can have similar symptoms to depression, so they might want to investigate that first to rule it in (or out).
Depression often alters your own perception of yourself; that you somehow don't deserve any help and support or that you are just a burden. You need to fight those feelings, because they're not true.
If you don't want to ring for an appointment, ask someone to do it for you or book online. The sooner you get help, the sooner you'll start to feel better.
WHAT WILL THEY SAY BACK?
Obviously we can't tell you verbatim what the Doctor will say, but they'll probably talk through your symptoms with you. They may be also ask some additional questions about your lifestyle; drink, drugs, sleep, etc. to see if there's any changes to those that can be made.
WILL I AUTOMATICALLY BE GIVEN MEDICATION?
No, not always. From my own experience, my first consultation didn't end with a prescription for drugs, I was recommended a book on Mindfulness! (Mindfulness for Dummies, in case you're wondering. I hope the title wasn't a dig at me!).
You might be offered anti-depressants, but not always. They may first suggest changes to your lifestyle, local support groups, counselling, CBT, therapy or refer you to the local mental health team before they go down the pills route.
If you do get medication, don't worry. Also, don't expect an instant impact. Almost all medication for mental health will take some time to get into your system and take effect; sometimes up to 6 weeks. There may also be side-effects in the meds you do take, but these vary from person to person. It may also be that the first type of medication (or even the second or third) aren't right for you, but don't get disillusioned. Sometimes it just takes a little while to find the one that works for you and because it takes a while to find out, there may be a period of trial and error.
There is also medication that might make you feel worse. We know that sounds like a bad thing (and it's obviously not great) but if your first reaction is to stop taking them immediately, then that's not great either. Stopping them 'cold turkey' can be quite dangerous and lead to some withdrawal effects. If they are really causing you a problem, go back to your Doctor and tell them about it. They'll know what to do.
IF YOU'RE NOT HAPPY (with your Doctor, not in general).....
Despite what you might read in the newspapers, you'd think the NHS was going to pot. The vast majority of GPs have your best interests at heart and are perfectly capable of diagnosing you, but occasionally you might not be happy with the service you've received. Don't let this stop you getting help. Simply request to see another Doctor. You don't HAVE to give a reason if you don't want to. Don't let one bad experience deter you from getting help.
There you are then! The simple, painless and very easy guide to getting help from your GP. If there is anything you think people need to know, please leave a comment below.
If you live in the north-east, we have our own men-only support groups called 'The SpeakEasy'. More details on them are linked here!