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Article by Editorial | 3rd January 2019

Looking After His Wellbeing

The New Year isn’t just about your physical health and fitness, your mental health is just as important too – and it’s not just women who suffer.

Would you be able to recognise when your partner is battling with his mental health? Following recent reports that toxic masculinity leaves most young men feeling pressured to ‘man up’, we share some tips from Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP Healthcare, on how to spot when your partner may be struggling with their own internal battle, and how you can help.

How common are male mental health issues compared to those of women?

Research shows that women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem, and almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. However, women are generally more willing to discuss their emotional experience than men, with counsel, support and diagnosis a step in a positive direction towards recovery.

Meanwhile, a stigma still surrounds men’s mental health that prevents many from seeking help. This drives an alarmingly high number to take drastic action – 75% of all suicides in England are male and it’s the biggest killer of men under 50. Currently, male rates remain three times higher than female suicide rates in the UK.

Why does it seem more difficult for men to address their own mental health?

From a young age, boys are taught to be ‘brave’. Evolutionarily speaking, men were protectors, and this has translated into a modern stereotype that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. A common phrase in today’s society is ‘man up’, which has inherently negative connotations that being emotional makes you less of a man. Men therefore bottle up emotions, which can trigger negative thought, distress and anxiety. If left untreated, this can escalate into total lack of self-worth and suicidal tendency.

What are the signs to look out for if you think your partner is suffering?

Your boyfriend or husband will act out of character. They may display anger, irritability and aggressiveness, otherwise be totally flat and struggle to show or feel positive emotions.

• They might lose their appetite, lack energy and either struggle to sleep or sleep too much.

• They may show deep sadness or hopelessness that hints at suicidal thoughts. They might adopt unhealthy habits, like turning to alcohol or smoking.

• Besides emotional side effects, mental illness can manifest physically, in the form of headaches, digestive issues and discomfort.

• While your partner may experience one, or all, of the above, everybody’s different. They may conceal certain behaviours or feelings. And remember, they may not even realise they’re acting out of character.

Communication is key

It’s important to generate open, relaxed conversation with your partner. Follow his lead – if he’s receptive and willing to speak frankly about how he’s feeling, listen and reassure him that he’s not alone. Don’t push him, as this could spark an argument and worsen feelings on both sides. Instead, give him space and be there when he’s ready.

• Being with someone experiencing mental ill health can be draining and frustrating, but try not to inadvertently increase their feelings of isolation by venting your own frustrations.

• Never tell them to ‘get over it’. You would never say to someone with a broken leg ‘just walk on it’. Just because we can’t see poor mental health, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. Mental illness is indiscriminate. Whether it is a partner, friend or a family member who’s affected, you should avoid making harsh statements and second-guessing what they’re thinking or feeling.

• For more information, visit AXA PPP Healthcare’s Mental Health Centre.

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