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Why Asking for Help Isn't a Weakness: Here's How To Do It
Health and beauty
June 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains why it isn't weakness to ask for help

Today I feel angry. Angry at the world. Angry at myself. A friend who I met every morning for the past 10 years committed suicide. And I didn't see it coming...

I saw him the morning of his death and I never knew. I am a professional and I am supposed to know about these things. And yet, despite knowing all the tell-tale signs, I never saw it coming. This was the third male suicide I had experience of last week.

Now as a behaviouralist I know the bars of an emotional prison are made out of guilt, anger, bitterness and resentment, and what people don't understand is that this is the kind of prison that locks from the inside. There isn't anybody that can let you out of that prison except for you. Of course I am angry at the choice, not the person.

Although cultural norms have started to shift, many men are taught from a young age to suppress their emotions, which is why depression among men is so under-diagnosed. Men are much less likely than women to seek treatment for all mental health disorders, especially depression. In fact, many men don’t even realise there’s a problem. This is a slippery slope. Many men know how to hide depression and they may turn to substances to self-medicate, which could lead to addiction and other issues that affect quality of life.

Read More: Meet the Hebden Bridge-Based Transformational Coach who Helps Men Reach their True Potential

They don’t know how to ask for help. They lack the emotional language. Suicide may seem like the only way. Suicide is a very complex and sensitive issue, with many factors combining to push someone to take such drastic action. And sadly, the statistics speak for themselves.

Every year across the UK, approximately 6,000 people take their own lives.

The rate of suicide in men is over three times higher than in women with 77 percent of all suicides in the UK involving men. Men aged 45–64 have the highest rate of suicide by age and suicide is the second biggest cause of death in young males. 

For generations, societal roles have pressured men to ‘man up’. They're encouraged to be tough, and any admittance that you're not okay is one of weakness. While women are often wrongly characterised as emotional, men are not encouraged to speak up at all. Its roots are in childhood when we're told that boys don't cry and traditionally, men have been less likely to seek support for mental health issues. 

When I talk to men about depression I often hear something along the lines of: ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it,’ ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone,’ or ‘I’m too embarrassed’. 

It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them and given men are less likely to speak up in a medical setting, it makes them less likely to get the treatment they need when they are struggling. It can be hard to identify when someone is thinking about taking their life (known as suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts). If you're worried about someone, observe their character, and look out for some of the following:  

Are they feeling like they are isolated or lonely. A failure or disappointment. A burden to other people. Finding it hard to talk to people. Withdrawing from other people or fighting with people.

Are there changes to their thinking? Intrusive thoughts, trauma flashbacks or being distracted. Finding it hard to focus or concentrate or getting stuck on negative thoughts.

Look for changes in emotions. Feeling trapped, angry, overwhelmed, or numb. Depressed or hopeless. Anxious or stressed. Worthless or alone.

Are they struggling to maintain routine, hygiene or appearance. Having poor or disrupted sleep and noticeable changes to eating patterns or rapid weight changes. 

Recognising someone else is not okay can be difficult, but it can be even more difficult seeing it in yourself. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

• Do you still get excited by positive occasions? 

• Are you still keen on exercise, and do you still get a buzz from it? 

• Are you finding it harder to concentrate on work? Are you able to concentrate on a book or a film?

• Are you losing track of social situations or just avoiding them?

A change in attitude in these situations could be a sign that your mental health is deteriorating.

Read More: Meet The Man Supporting People's Mental Health With His Coffee Trailer

If someone you know is vulnerable to suicide, it's important to put prevention steps in place so no harm can come to them. Putting time aside on a regular basis to talk through how they're feeling is a good start. Here are some other things to put in place:

• Make a safety coping plan.

• Don't ignore the signs.

• Seek the support they need as soon as you can. 

• Support their treatment.

It's not always easy to start with caring for your wellbeing. You might find it helpful to give yourself time to figure out what works for you, going at your own pace and take small steps. Pick one or two things that feel achievable at first, before moving on to try other ideas. Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm, the anchor won't make the storm go away, but it will hold you steady until it passes.

If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts you should take steps to get crisis support straight away. Help and support is out there for anyone struggling with mental health issues or considering taking their own life. The Samaritans are always ready to listen 24 hours a day 365 days a year on freephone 116 123 or by email In the long-term, there are things you can do to tackle the issues you've been experiencing and improve your wellbeing. 

• When you don’t have the strength to take another step, ask those you love to pull you.

• Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start and make a brand new ending.

• It isn’t weak to ask for help. We don’t expect to see in the dark without a torch so remember – you’re just reaching for that torch! 

Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland University, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, elite sporting professionals, senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. @drmauriceduffy 

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