Mental health has been receiving more attention in recent years, for what has often been a taboo subject. Despite that, the stigma that still surrounds men and mental health remains a challenge. In recent months, Covid-19 has dramatically changed life for all of us, including our mental health. And yet, there are still ways that we can improve our mental health, in a safe and socially distanced way.

If the stigma towards mental health is often still a challenge, this is even more difficult for many men. A common public perception is that men should not talk about emotions. We hear terms such as ‘man up’ and grow a pair’. This does not help, as when men encounter mental health problems, they often internalise their feelings. This makes it more likely that these problems will escalate. The biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide; the biggest predictor of suicide is poor mental health. We need to make it OK for men to talk about mental health, provide ways in which they can do that more comfortably, and ensure that they can get the support they need when they ask for it. We are currently looking at ways to make it easier for men to do just that.

All too often, people who experience poor mental health are seen to be weak and should be able to pull themselves together, especially men. Not only is that not true, we should not always assume that mental health is all about mental illness. We all have mental health in the same way that we have physical health. Just as we can do things to maintain physical health, we can help improve mental wellbeing too. If we can protect mental health, we may also reduce the likelihood of becoming unwell. Among the ways that we can help boost mental health is through the ‘5 Steps to Wellbeing’. One of those encourages us to ‘be active’, which suggests that we should take at least some exercise daily. This does not mean that we must run a marathon each day. Even a short (socially distanced) walk each day would do, and is something still encouraged under current lockdown rules.

One of the many benefits of living in a place like Dorset is having access to such beautiful rural and coastal scenery. Being able to engage in nature can only benefit our mental health still further. Throughout the terrible consequences of Covid, one recurring positive aspect mentioned by so many has been the way in which nature has lifted spirits during Spring. Among my many roles in mental health across Dorset is to work alongside BCP Council (and others) to develop ways that we can use nature to enhance wellbeing. Recently, Bournemouth Parks Foundation announced how the excellent Parks in Mind Spring programme uses nature to boost mental health.

While we have focused mostly on improving mental health in in this blog, I am very much aware that many people are concerned about what mental health support services are still running during Covid. To help signpost to those, I have listed some great examples on my website.

To conclude, if any men are reading this and are still reluctant to talk about emotions and mental health, please could I encourage you to do that. It will be the first step towards a better life for you and those around you.

The sun hangs low over the promenade of Bournemouth Beach

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