Until recently, I didn’t think mental health was for me. I thought concern about mental wellbeing was something for people with bigger issues, worse problems and enough money for a well-qualified therapist.
Through my own experiences and that of close friends, I’ve come to realise just how dumb and damaging this view can be. It’s a view shared by far too many twenty- something year old men who don’t take their state of mind seriously. If you fall into this category, ask yourself this: When was the last time you gave an honest account of how you feel? How often do you push aside shitty feelings, instead of doing something about it? When was the last time you said 'I'm okay' instead of admitting you were feeling bad?
For many young men, showing emotion is often seen as weakness, and bad feelings something to be drank or smoked away. In the UK, male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. This stat alone is enough to raise alarm bells about how guys approach mental health, but it still isn’t something we speak about enough.
It isn’t easy to reverse years of not acting or talking about how you feel, but I've found a couple of things that help me stay afloat when things are pretty bad. This is by no means a definitive, answer-all guide on how to feel great or cure deep rooted depression. I’m no expert on mental health or self help guru, by any means, but this stuff helps me. If it helps you too, that’s great. If it doesn't, take some time to find out what does. The important thing is for more guys to give mental health more thought. None of us can be ‘okay’ all the time.
Make Time For Some Exercise
I admit, this one is hardly a revolutionary idea. Exercise makes you feel good. It can be a way to completely zone out and get away from stressful situations. Trail running is a personal favourite for a bit of mental clarity, whilst team sports such as soccer (ahem, FOOTBALL) are ideal for making friends and taking your mind off a rough day.
Put Your Phone Down.
Trawling social media eats up time like nothing else, and nothing induces fear of impending nuclear extinction like a read through Donald Trump’s twitter feed. It’s also easy to waste hours flicking through old photos and misses better times, or scrolling through the Instagram account of the friend who made it good and now spends their days surfing and drinking smoothies in Bali. Sometimes you need to leave it all on the table for half an hour or so. There are several apps to help with this sort of thing. Buddify is a great way to practice mindfulness, mellow out and detach from difficult situations or feelings. Similarly, apps like breakfree and moment can help you cut down on the time you spend on your devices.
Get In Touch With An Old Friend.
Losing contact with people you were close affects most people in some way. It can really hit home if you’re someone from a small town or were part of a close-knit group of friends growing up. Going away to college or moving elsewhere to work can distort friendships and make you feel far away from those who once knew you best. The silly thing is, its often a mutual feeling; people miss each other, and lament the other person for not getting in touch. There’s nothing to lose in sending the first message, or better still, arranging to meet in person. Reach out, and once you have, stay in touch.
Set Yourself Little Goals and Try Something New
As the days become shorter and Autumn kicks in, it becomes easy to fall into a drab routine, where you don't really do anything with free time you have. Instead of scrolling aimlessly or running through a Netflix series, start a project or something productive. Picking up something you enjoyed as a kid can be liberating. Similarly, doing something new like learning the guitar or keeping a journal can give a sense of purpose outside of work or study. Setting small targets and milestones keeps you committed to the longer term ambition. Again, there are loads of apps to help you with this kind of thing. I’ve found software like strides and irunurun to be great for helping work towards little bits and pieces.
Talk About How You Feel.
I have a set of long term, close friends who have grown up together, shared experiences, laughed together and (briefly) hated each other. But until recently, we never discussed emotions. If you felt bad, it was your problem, and you kept it to yourself. The thought process goes something like - suck it up, be a man, stop whining and get over it. But most of this time, it makes it much worse. Telling a close friend how you actually feel instead of simply saying you’re good can change so much.
As I said, this stuff helps me out when I'm not feeling great, but if you are having real trouble , there's plenty of help out there. Check out sites like CALM and Crisis Text Line - these sites have dedicated professionals on hand and available to listen. Don't just be okay - do something about how you feel.