• Rachel Roussell

Men’s mental health – let the music play!


To my readers,

I’m not male and I’m not claiming to be an expert in mental health or men!

I strive to understand men. (I’m smiling)

I’m a storyteller and a messenger – someone who has been inspired to write an article because of a noticeable change in men’s behaviour over the last couple of years and men’s mental health has been in the news headlines recently.

I feel now would be a good time to introduce the 3 wise men that I am travelling with through this article…

I have enrolled the help of Mark, Andrew and Winston. Who, by true definition of the word ‘wise’ show experience, knowledge and good judgement and they have kindly taken the time to tell me their stories.

They all bring a different story to the table and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their contribution to a serious topic.

Men’s mental health hit the headlines recently when studies revealed that on average 84 men in the UK take their lives every week and in the USA, 7 out of 10 suicides are committed by men.

It is said that people who die by suicide most probably don’t want to end their lives they want to end their pain. With that in mind, if you are reading this and you feel that you’re not in a good place, I would like to encourage you to talk to someone - speak to a family member, a doctor or an expert. As always, your stories or coping mechanisms may be of use to others so by all means contact me and we can share them if that is what you would like.

If you are a sufferer, know this:

  • Your feelings are valid

  • You have the right to feel whatever you want

  • You aren’t exaggerating

  • You aren’t being too sensitive

  • You are most probably hurting so it’s ok to feel sad or down

  • Sometimes it’s exhausting having to be strong all the time and it’s ok to cry

  • Mental illness is not a personal failure and to seek help or open up is a show of strength and it is to be respected

  • We are not superhuman – we all have feelings and emotions

State of mind and the ‘invisible illness’

Mental health problems are sometimes described as the ‘invisible illness.’

It’s true, we can’t see or tell how people really feel. We don’t and can’t really know what is actually going on in someone else’s head.

If you are dealing with someone who is struggling, the most powerful words you can use are, ‘I believe you.’

My comments and opinions come from research, observations and experience – I’m not saying that I am right. What I do know is words can be powerful and the right ones at the right time said in the right way can make a big positive difference to someone’s state of mind.

The same can be said the other way.

Let’s transition now…

Let’s bring this article up a beat!

Ah yes, the beat!

Music… it lifts the soul and floods the mind with memories.

The relationship between music and the state of mind is fascinating and this is the perfect link to my first contributor Mark Nesbitt. Mark is a keen dancer who can claim to cut shapes and take 70,000 musical steps on a single visit to a dance venue! (It’s true)

Mark Nesbitt - Mentor and Director of ‘Proactive People’

Mark has a history of helping people – charity work, fundraising, a business development advisor and a life motivator.

Mark speaks to people every day, people who face challenges and want to improve their life performance and wellbeing. I felt Mark was ideal to talk to about this topic because of his job role and his general outlook on life.

He glows! By that I mean he has a healthy, motivating presence that makes you feel like you want to get the best out of yourself.

Hence he is very good at what he does!

Mark kindly agreed to offer his insights and views on men’s mental health by answering the following questions:

How long have you been a mentor?

“I’ve been running my own business since 2002 and had a couple of great mentors myself before making the decision to become a mentor in 2015. In some ways, I’ve been mentoring my management team for many years before this but it was in 2015 that I started working with people outside my business.”

In the past men have been reluctant to express emotions and admit their struggles and challenges. Being a closed book may have limited their progression at work. Have you seen a change in this?

“I agree that being a closed book has the potential to limit your progress at work and life in general. I don’t think I’m old and wise enough to give a good historical account of the changes but I would say that all of the men I’ve mentored, and I’d include myself in this, find it difficult to share their deepest emotions and to admit their weaknesses. In my experience, the male ego really slows down men’s ability to reach their full potential. Humble men, in touch with their emotional side, with awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, are best placed to progress not just at work but in life.”

What advice would you give to a man who is facing mental challenges that are affecting his performance at work?

“What I have found is that men can change themselves, with guidance, desire and dedication. The options for seeking guidance include self-help books, speaking to your manager or someone you’re close to. Working with a coach or mentor can accelerate this learning.

The foundation for my mentoring programme is making good habits because I believe success and happiness come from what you choose to do or not do every day.

Exercise, healthy eating, supplements and good sleep will help men with mental health issues.”

Thank you Mark for sharing your valuable insights with us.

Music and exercise link me to my next contributor, Andrew Wilson.

To some, the value of music is priceless. For Andrew, it is like a sedative and you can actually see any physical or mental stress drain away from his body as he strums on his guitar.

Andrew Wilson – 50 yrs old, has a stressful corporate job and 2 children

Andrew suffers a lot with physical pain and with a history of relationship challenges it has tested his mental health. I asked Andrew to help me with this topic because sometimes it appears he is in pain 24/7 and I don’t know how he keeps going.

He has the ability to hide his suffering and be the kindest, most giving person who people naturally warm to. He is like a music playing guardian angel.

I asked Andrew…

What has caused your pain, what level is it at and how long have you suffered?

“I’ve led a very active life and was lucky with few injuries until at 35 years old.

I had a heavy head-on impact on the top of my head during a rugby game, caused by running into a big prop, which jarred all the way down my neck. I carried on, but that was the start of my problems and despite the physiotherapist assuring me it would be 6 weeks to recovery, he was wrong. I was 4 weeks in a collar and 6 months before I played again.

Since then, I have had 2 MRI scans which confirmed compressed C4, 5 & 6, which I was told – quote, “will give you hell” sometimes. This was an understatement!

This ailment affects me more as I get older, weekly at least. The pain level varies between 2 and 8 out of 10 where 10 is high, but I always have some discomfort with neck/back muscles at least.

Further shoulder dislocation and AC joint damaged due to mountain biking and snowboard injuries didn’t help, but the neck is worst, with recurring problems, often starting after sleeping, where my position and pillows are critical.

Immediately after waking I regularly get pain and headaches which last between 1 and 2 days and Ibuprofen doesn’t help.

Numb little and ring fingers and fuzzy vision are quite common issues.”

How do you think it has affected you mentally? Has it prevented you from doing things?

“This definitely affects me both physically and mentally. There is a tendency not to take as many risks for fear of further injury, but perhaps that is just age and self-preservation kicking in? The biggest problem is concentrating during extended periods in pain.

Work can be a real issue, perhaps once a week if headaches are rife and certainly socialising can be difficult.

Another unpleasant side effect is that soon after drinking, I tend to get a hangover, even after moderate amounts – like 4 glasses of wine, so typically when everyone is getting lively, I crash out with head and neck ache after say 4 hours.

The on-going and recurring pain is debilitating some days and wears you down physically and mentally. You do get used to it, but when you find some relief, such as a massage, you realise just how much pain you are living with day to day.

It’s exhausting sometimes and at those times, it’s hard to get out of the door and it can lead to depression at times and emotional fragility.

I have broken down and cried several times with the on-going pain. It may even be adding to my “anxiety” issues which make it hard to cope day to day. Work and big Airports generate a lot of stress for me.”

What methods have you tried to relieve your suffering, have you found anything that has helped?

“I’ve tried many ways of reducing suffering, but bizarrely, no matter how bad it is, exercise often helps!

For me, training and staying fit is paramount and always helps, though I have to be careful not to aggravate the injury.

Keeping my mind occupied often helps by distracting me from the pain. Music is a great relief plus I find relief in researching anything of interest online.

I tried Physiotherapy, repeated Chiropractors, masseurs and best relief so far is from Acupuncture, suction cups and local massage.

Anti-inflammatory drugs don’t work sadly. Currently, I’m trying Hypnotherapy as well but only just started so I’m not sure on the results as yet.

Note all of these are temporary reprieves rather than fixes – There is no magic cure, though an operation may help, but has a high risk of paralysis if it goes wrong I am told….Not worth the risk unless my life is ruined was the surgeon’s advice. However, at times I have felt I can’t carry on and struggled to exist, though perhaps that is my character, rather than a result of the injury. A bit manic I would add.

However, there is hope and if I can get 6 good days a week, I can manage the bad 1. I’m sure some people have it worse but at the bad times, it doesn’t seem so and getting through the day is hard. Looking around at so many unfit people is really odd as I can see they aren’t suffering as they move around as I am and that just seems to emphasize the pain.

After saying all this, I still love life and live it to the maximum. I snowboard, run, cycle on and off road, go to concerts and date! It’s just learning to manage it on the bad days and how not to aggravate it.”

Thank you so much Andrew for being honest about your pain and how it has affected you with your work and personal life. I’m sure there are many men out there that can relate to your anxieties.

My final contributor is Winston. He pushes his body physically and mentally trying to achieve what to most of us would find the unachievable. Winston’s lifestyle lacks regularity, routine or downtime. He is a male Duracell battery bunny, he just keeps going! And smiling!

When you spend time with Winston, you are in a state of internal and external laughter. He is what you would call, a tonic!

His efforts, resilience and determination are very impressive. Winston has installed a coping mechanism that has given him the ability to move on through the testing times that a lot of men would crumble at. His taste in music is interesting. Winston’s playlists tell a story in itself and I struggle to take him seriously when he puts on Je t’aime!

Winston Simms - 55 yrs old, has a physically demanding job and a young daughter

I think we can all agree that in our very early years, we truly believe that our parents are always right - as much as that annoys us at the time.

We think that our parents are the last people in the world that would inflict hurt or pain on us.

As we grow up, a lot of people realise that’s not the case. Those two people who dabbed your knee when it bled and read bedtime stories aren’t the people you thought they were.

Forgive the sad negativity at this point. I’m setting the scene for Winston’s story.

Like a lot of men, juggling single parenting, work, relationships and reality is a challenge. When carrying the scars of disturbing emotional experiences it’s sometimes tough to cope and it’s exhausting.

Winston was happy to open up and answer the following questions:

Do you think the relationship someone has with either of their parents can affect that person in a big way later in life?

“I have faced some challenges in my life due to the relationship that I had with my mother and it has caused me some issues. It really screws your head up when your own mother lets you down. A mother, above anyone else, is supposed to protect you. When she lets you down, it makes it difficult to trust anyone else. It really plays with your head.”

Are you happy to talk about it, do you think men, in general, are happy to open up about their feelings these days?

“It seems to be more acceptable for men to express themselves now. I can’t say I make a habit of it talking about emotions and worries at the pub with my male mates, it’s mainly to my female friends that I talk to.

I'm ok to talk about my mother now but I wasn’t comfortable talking about it so much when I was younger. My mum was battling her own demons when I was a child. Unfortunately, she was emotionally selfish and it affected me, my brothers and sisters. When my parents split up I was 10 and my dad got custody of us. I dread to think what would have happened if he hadn’t fought for us. I felt guilty for leaving mum so I did go to visit or stay with her at times but it normally ended up messy. Quite often I would find her at the bottom of a bottle and she would prance around half dressed like a bloody belly dancer. It was embarrassing and intimidating, it wasn’t right. She didn’t seem to care much about what she did around us and her life was about her and her needs. I felt really let down and very sad and sometimes angry. ”

Has it stopped you from having loving and caring relationships with women?

“It hasn't stopped me but I think it has prevented me from totally committing to a woman because if I do, she may do the same as my mother did. I wouldn't want to put myself through that loss again. I wouldn't say it's caused me mental health problems. It was an issue when I was younger and I had some counselling.

I would encourage any men to talk things through with people. It's not healthy to bottle things up. Believe me, I don’t bottle anything up anymore and boy does it get rid of the anxieties and eggshell feelings that I used to have. I have met some great women in my life but always been afraid to tell them I loved them for fear of rejection. Maybe I haven’t met the right one yet. I hope I do, I don’t want to end up sad and lonely like my mum who is full of bitterness.”

Has it affected your work and prevented you from progressing?

“I wouldn’t say it’s stopped me from doing well in my job but I do find I am less tolerant than what perhaps I should be. I can’t be dealing with selfish people who are disrespectful and I will say something. Sometimes it might be easier to turn the other cheek but I don’t like bullies. I’m very conscious of mental bullying, it isn’t healthy or nice. What my mother did teach me was how not to treat others. I’ve chosen not to let her failings affect me and it makes me even more determined to be a great dad! ”

I wrapped up the interview with one final question…

Winston, what do you recommend men do to achieve good mental wellbeing?

“Be strong like me, like bull.”

(I’m laughing)

Thank you for sharing your story Winston. It sounds like your childhood was challenging and I’m sure there are men that have had to cope with similar situations.

Having spent time with Mark, Andrew and Winston it has made me think more about men’s feelings and emotions. I was impressed with how willing they were to open up to me and hopefully that is ‘the sign of the times’ - men learning to express their emotions and feelings.

We will be returning to this topic…

One thing is for certain, men find music therapeutic so I say let the music play!

If you are having a bad day, turn the music up grab your air guitar – sing, dance and express yourself.

Don’t suffer in silence.

References:

UK suicide rates https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registration

USA suicide rates

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/


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Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom - 07800887857 rachel.roussell@gmail.com

Copyright Rachel Roussell 2020