Ten ways men can protect their mental health in the pandemic

Holly Hildrith

The coronavirus pandemic has made it more important than ever for men to look after themselves mentally, according to the author of a new self-help book backed by Stephen Fry.

Fabian Devlin, 44, from south London, collected 60 stories of men with experience of mental illness for his book Big Boys Don’t Cry?, released to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

The book, which draws ten key lessons from their stories, has been endorsed by Fry who described it as a “brave and important book, providing a source of comfort and hope to anyone struggling with their mental health”.

He said: “We’re hearing daily that those people who have learned tools and techniques for managing their mental health are able to cope much better with the uncertainty that we all face due to the coronavirus.

“It’s never been more important to look after yourself mentally and we hope our book which includes so many invaluable tips from contributors will help support people both during and after the Covid crisis.”

Fry: 'Brave and important' (Getty)

It recommends ten key lessons that can be learned by other men and women to help them stay healthy: talking, therapy, medication, visiting GP, mindfulness, exercise, self compassion, avoiding alcohol or drug abuse, faith and hobbies.

The book was launched in partnership with Time to Change Kingston at an online event hosted by BBC presenter Alison Mitchell.

Ten per cent of proceeds from the book will go to mental health charities CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and Mind.

The ebook is available from bigboysdontcry.co.uk

Top 10 Lessons by men, for men:

1. Talking – without doubt the most important step you can take. Nearly every man in the book stresses how crucial it is to reach out to family and friends when you’re struggling, however impossible it may seem at the time. Not one of the men said they’d regretted opening up about their problems and many of them said it had literally saved their life.

2. Therapy – following naturally on from ‘talking’ is the advice from men to seek counselling. Whether it’s group therapy arranged by your local National Health Service, a peer-group or one-to-one therapy with a private therapist, the benefits of sharing your negative thoughts, previously locked inside your head, with an impartial and non-judgmental listener/s are immeasurable. Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which helps manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave, was a very popular approach taken by the men in this book.

3. Medication – many of the men writing in the book admit to feeling sceptical and afraid at first of taking antidepressants – often SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Citaloptam and Fluoxetine or Prozac – but found that medication really helped lift them out of a dark place. Combining prescribed medicine with another of the activities found on this list, especially talking therapy, is recommended as the best approach.

4. Visit GP – often one of the first steps that the men in the book took. Speaking to their doctor was the start of their recovery and just having a trusted, neutral person listen to their problems and offer guidance and support made the effort to pick up the phone and call the local surgery extremely worthwhile.

5. Mindfulness – the simple act of focusing on your breathing and learning to be present – not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future – is a surprising and enlightening gamechanger described by many of the men in the book who had previously thought meditation was, as one writer put it, ‘airy-fairy’. Definitely worth giving it a go, if you haven’t tried it before.

Joe Wicks is joined by his wife Rosie for his daily YouTube PE lsson (Joe Wicks)

6. Exercise – whether it’s an individual activity like running, going to the gym or taking a yoga class - or a team sport like football, rugby and cricket - a large number of men pointed to the proven benefits of physical exercise. Despite often struggling with fatigue, listlessness and a lack of motivation, they found that even five minutes of exercise released those helpful endorphin chemicals that made them feel a whole lot better!

7. Self-Acceptance/Self-Compassion – learning to tame your inner-critic and accept yourself for who you are, ‘warts and all’, was seen as a key step in recovery for many of the book’s contributors. Being kind and compassionate to yourself, lowering your high standards and trying to avoid the pitfall of perfectionism were common themes within the men’s stories.

8. Avoid Alcohol or Drug Abuse - the message from men in the book is clear: turning to drink and drugs (or any other self-medication) to avoid your problems, although very tempting and understandable, is simply not the answer. Those men who have recovered, or are recovering from addiction, say that they only began to get better mentally when they became sober. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and their 12 Steps programme is cited as a great support for many men struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.

9. Faith – having a belief in something greater than yourself - be it God, Buddha, Allah or another higher power - is a great comfort to many of those who shared their story. In a world which places such a high value on commercial and material success, having something spiritual in their lives gave these men a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

10. Hobbies – finding something to be passionate about - just to distract yourself from the ‘grind in your mind’ - was recommended by many of the men in the book. Photography, gardening, Sudoku, a pet dog – whatever you’re interested in – try and make time for old hobbies and be open to new ones too.