In a survey of 1000 men in the US, 72% of respondents said they would prefer to clean a toilet than go to the doctor.
Are you surprised at that statistic?
I’m not a man, but I kinda get it.
The first time I realised I needed to talk to someone about mental health issues, I had to make an appointment with my GP to ask for a referral to the psychologist. When I went in for my first session, I remember sitting in the waiting room looking at all the other people who appeared as dull and afraid as me. The office was dark and quiet. There was a large clock which seemed to tick way too loud.
My eyes weren’t the only ones darting around the room in an anxious flurry.
When I finally got into the doctor’s office, I had to start by giving a life history as far back as I could remember.
I walked out feeling like such a victim of my life. Here I was, a 24 year old woman working in corporate finance, entrusted with executing on complex projects and having daily interactions with C-suite executives whose companies were undertaking mergers and acquisitions processes.
I was extraordinarily capable on the outside, but also extraordinarily disempowered on the inside. And I couldn’t reconcile it all (pardon the pun from an ex-accountant!). I had nothing tangible to grab onto within this process.
It took quite some sessions before I actually walked out of that office feeling any better than what I felt when I walked in. And that was enormously frustrating.
I wish I’d broken a wrist or cut my leg open instead. That would have been easier to sort out, I thought.
It really sucked wading through the muddy waters of my past to try to get some sense of okay-ness in the present (makes toilet cleaning sound like fun!).
Sadly, I’ve heard similar stories to mine many times over. And more often from men. Which is why I wanted to share this part of my story during Mens Health Month.
Last year, I conducted a research exercise where I invited men to speak to me confidentially about the mental health issues they faced, what they’d done to overcome them and any particular road blocks they’d faced. I spoke to 10 men from different walks of life in rather great detail.
In terms of what stopped them getting help sooner (or at all), their responses mirrored those from the survey I mentioned. The biggest reasons for not seeking help could be summarised as:
✗ Social stigma - feeling weak
✗ Shame + judgment - negative experiences with previous practitioners
✗ Resistance to change - knowing a lifestyle shift is needed and feeling overwhelmed
✗ Discomfort - it's plain scary to talk about some issues
In the years that have passed since the unsettling experience of getting started on my path to mental wellness, what I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s important to have an ally to help you work things through, however, mental and emotional well-being isn’t forged only in the doctor’s office.
Wellness is a result of a healthy ecosystem - the food you eat and drink, the work you do and hobbies you engage in, quality sleep, how you manage stress, how much sunlight you get and how you move your body, as well as who you have around you to love and support you. All of these need looking at, but not all at once.
It’s a whole of life question.
If reaching out and talking about what’s tough for you feels too edgy or too much right now, know that the first step toward better mental health doesn’t have to all be about talking. Here are some things you can do to create more space for your (mental) health and start building your wellness:
Move your body - aim to build up slowly to 3.5 hours/week
Drink more water (yes - there is solid research behind this)
Eat less sugar
Go for long walks*
Read (or listen to) more books to challenge your mind and stimulate creativity
Find a relevant podcast to build understanding of your situation
Get outside more often
*Tim Ferris is quoted as saying there is nothing a 3 hour walk can’t solve inside of his mind! I tend to agree.
Sometimes these things can help create just the amount of space you need to reach out to another human to get some help. It’s like building a bridge.
Lastly, something I think that is ignored far too much when it comes to the mental health space:
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO DREAM!
You’re allowed to want something bigger for yourself.
Psychologist Jerry Wesch said, “When you have a big enough dream, you don't need a crisis.”. And to refine a little further, having a big dream can give you the leverage you need to help move you out of a crisis, whether a minor or a major one.
This is really why I love my work (my dream!). This is the space I play in with my clients. Sometimes when we start our work, the dream is still unclear. But it emerges, and when it does, any kind of healing or growth that needs to happen before that dream can be realised is accelerated.
As much as I’d like to say it’s magic, this is actually just human mechanics, and it can work for you too.
Will you take up my invitation to dig a little deeper on this topic this month? Who will be on Team ? Which practices/habits do you get to work on?
…and what dream will you dare to dream?