Talking about emotions is an interesting thing
By Dr Julie Denning – Managing Director at Working To Wellbeing
Talking about emotions is an interesting thing. Word on the street suggests that women find it much easier to do this than men. But is this true? According to statistics (Mental health Foundation, 2022), men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women and men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK. The Foundation suggests that societal expectations and gender roles have a part to play in why men don’t talk about how they feel and make it difficult for men to open up and seek help. Speaking openly about emotions and being able to recognise one’s own emotions has been shown to be positively related: If you talk more, you notice your own emotions more, you ask more for help.
This last statement is of greatest importance. Reaching out for help. According to NHS data, only 36% of referrals for talking therapies are made by men. We have similarly low levels of uptake in our vocational rehabilitation services. Many more women than men opt for our support.
I wonder what is needed to help to shift the focus a bit to ensure that men feel as able as women to get the support they need? Many of the men through our service have commented that it has been good to have a confidential space to chat and they could see the advantage of being able to talk to someone outside of their usual social circles, including their family. It gave them the freedom to have a guilt free conversation where they didn’t have to put a brave face on things or pretend that all is OK when it isn’t. They had the space to talk without feeling a burden.
So, if this is how men are feeling once they do start accessing support, assuming here that you are a man reading this, what can we do to clear the emotional path for you to be able to reach out?
If you wanted to tell other people about how you feel, what would your immediate emotional response be? Shame, embarrassment, fear, worry, fear you’ll unravel, have a breakdown or cry? Are these the same emotions that you are pushing away when you throw yourself into your work, your gardening, your shed, your garage, your old car (apologies for the stereotypes here) because you don’t want to feel them?
Is one answer to perhaps open the door ajar, rather than fling it open. Start small. This isn’t an all or nothing affair jumping from not talking at all to wearing your heart on your sleeve. This is about firstly noticing and describing how you feel and remembering that emotions are a core part of the human condition, we have a vast range of them. It is very normal to have feelings and emotions are not the same as mental ill health. You might happen to be in tears on occasion, but this doesn’t mean you are suffering from clinical depression.
Tuning into how you feel will help you to understand your own experiences and responses to situations and then be able to explain them more clearly to others and access any help you might need. Let me give you an example. If you always use the word ‘stressed’, to label your emotional experience, you are putting a one size fits all label onto how you feel at the time. This catch-all word may describe how you feel overall, but if you were to use a tool such as an ’emotions wheel’, you may be surprised to notice that you are probably feeling so much more than ‘stressed’. For example, you could be feeling anxious, scared, frightened, angry and hurt. This wheel gives you so much more knowledge about what you are experiencing and gives you a starting point for problem-solving: what’s making me angry? Why am I hurt? Can anyone help me with this? What sources of support are ‘out there’.
This might just be the turning point you need. No great fanfares or emotional declarations. Just new words forming sentences. Suddenly, the door is opening. Will you walk through it?
You can find information on sources of support available from a range of different places. Investigate what your employer has to offer – do they have an employee assistance programme (EAP), do you have private medical insurance (PMI), what services does your local healthcare service provide? Look at charities such as The Samaritans, Mind, and Mates in Mind for advice and guidance.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a cuppa/pint/sporting or leisure activity to connect with trusted friends. There are people who will want to support you.