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Is it an addiction?

Men's health week from 12th-18th June focuses on health issues that impact men disproportionally. The theme this year is men and the internet- this might be a surprising theme. But we know many people are becoming addicted to the dopamine hit we get when clicking on an app and scrolling. Apps are designed to keep you using them and to keep gaining that dopamine reward hit so without realising it this can quickly turn into an addiction.


You may feel addiction to your phone is harmless, but what is it taking you away from doing? Connecting with family, friends, focusing on work, hobbies? How many hours a day are we spending scrolling and ignoring other parts of our lives?


The internet and mobile use are just one form of addiction, we know men are more likely to suffer from addictions and these can have a significant impact on their mental health.


Substance use, such as alcohol and drugs, can lead to depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental ill health. It is estimated that around 70% of individuals who use drugs or alcohol have co-occurring mental ill health.


Addictions are also often the way men in particular manage their mental health, using them as “coping strategies” to mask the issues and distract from challenges. Most addictions creep up on us, starting as a social habit or a distraction. But we know that addictions by their very nature increase and cause further challenges. This can create a cycle of addiction and mental ill health, where the addiction worsens the mental ill health and the mental ill health makes it harder to quit the addiction.


Men account for 75% of suicides in the UK, that is at least 12 men a day, a frightening, preventable statistic. The reasons people take their life via suicide are complex and individual, but there are some common themes.


Men are less likely to talk about their worries, their fears, less likely to share their emotions and ask for help. They are more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy to mask issues. These two behaviours are driving the high suicide rates and the number of men in emotional pain. The shame and guilt men experience keep them living in silence.


Traditional male behaviours


I deliver MHFA training in many male dominated workplaces and the stories I hear are sadly very familiar.


They may have learnt from their male role models as a child that men do not talk about feelings, they are stoic and keep going whatever the internal pain. As they got older they may have learnt with friends or work colleagues that we “joke” or “banter” about mental health, we see it as a weakness to talk and be “sensitive” They may have also learnt the way to numb these feelings and be part of the male tribe is to use alcohol.

All of this can lead to isolation, exhaustion and escalating issues rather than understanding them and getting support.


Making a change


The first step is always some acceptance that things need to change and then opening up to someone for support whether that is a friend or professional.


Finding connections that do revolve around addictions or “stoic” behaviours can be challenging, but building new friendships are deepening existing ones can offset loneliness and aid changes. My recent Connections video might be a good place to start.


Alongside meaningful connections, finding a purpose and becoming part of something bigger helps build a sense of self and change the personal narrative. This could be anything that resonates with you, a local campaign, a kid's football club, a gardening group or maybe a national organisation like Campaign Against Living Miserably you could raise awareness or fundraise.


Exercise- addictions impact both our mind and body, we are holistic beings. We know that movement aids our mental and physical health. Starting some exercise however small, will help again build a sense of self and care for your body. You could do this as a group activity to build more connections and support with motivation or ask a friend to start walking with you- walking also makes it easier to share your feelings.


Supporting the individual

If you are concerned about a friend or colleague many small actions can help.

  • Listen: provide a safe space for your friend or colleague to talk about their feelings and experience. Acknowledge their pain and allow them to feel heard.

  • Be non judgemental: the shame people may feel adds to their silence, being there and excepting them fully for who they are without judgement is a powerful support.

  • Encourage them to seek help: Encourage them to seek professional help or support groups. Offer to help them find resources or accompany them to appointments.

  • Celebrate milestones: Celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Find and acknowledge small things to be grateful for in their lives.

  • Be patient and understanding: Recovery is a journey that takes time and effort. Be patient and understanding, and offer your ongoing support and encouragement.


Ask Twice


Reach out to a friend and “ask twice.” What happens when we ask somehow how they are? Mostly we get “I’m fine” we have almost been conditioned to say this, asking twice, lets people know this is a genuine question and you are looking for a genuine answer, this guide gives you some tips


How else we can help

  • Educate yourself: Knowing more about addictions or mental ill health can help you understand others' struggles and how you can best support them

  • Raise awareness – get involved in campaigns, highlight issues and fundraise for support. Campaign Against Living Miserably is a great place to start.

  • Take care of yourself: Supporting someone can be emotionally draining. Take care of yourself by setting boundaries, practising self-care, and seeking support for yourself when needed.


Remember each individual's story is different and the support required will be different too, it is rarely a straight journey with a few steps forward and back along the way but showing compassion can help individuals feel motivated and supported.


Supports

If you need to talk to someone please reach out, the following are a few places to start:

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