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Open Up: Asking for help is a sign of courage and strength for men with mental ill health

PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:47 20 June 2019

A man in mental health distress. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A man in mental health distress. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Marjan_Apostolovic

"Asking for help is a sign of courage."

Men are being enocuraged to speak about their mental health. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotoMen are being enocuraged to speak about their mental health. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

That is the message today from men who have struggled with their mental health, the families tragically left behind through suicide, and those professionals working against the tide to halt the rise of men in distress.

Men in Norfolk are more than three times as likely to take their own lives - and in data released this month it was revealed nearly 200 men took their lives in the three years from 2015 to 2017.

This has prompted this newspaper to dedicate today to shining a spotlight on men's mental health and encouraging fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, husbands, boyfriends, and friends everywhere to open up and have a conversation.

The gap between the number of men in Norfolk who take their own life compared to women is shocking - the male suicide rate for the area is currently around 16.3 in every 100,000 men, compared to 5.2 in every 100,000 women.

Gabriel Abotsie, men's wellbeing nursing lead at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.Gabriel Abotsie, men's wellbeing nursing lead at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

This had also risen from previous figures of 13.8 for men and 4.2 for women.

Gabriel Abotsie, men's wellbeing lead with the Wellbeing Service, said the social constructs around men often pushed them into feeling they could not admit if they needed help.

He said: "Girls are encouraged to speak up but boys are encouraged to toughen up, so it's like boys don't cry."

He said men feeling like they had to provide for their families, or be masculine and strong was also damaging, as it meant by the time they did get help, they were often at crisis point.

"We know men are twice as likely to be detained under the mental health act," he said, because not getting help earlier meant their situation had got worse.

But he said there was a concerted effort to target the issue, part of which was the creation of his role - the first of its kind to focus on men's mental health - in 2016.

The work was so valuable that once the initial funding ran out, Mr Abotsie was incorporated into the Wellbeing Service to carry on his job.

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"There are two ways we're addressing this," he said. "The first is encouraging men to seek help, it's changing our perceptions about what masculinity is about, and it talks about toughness.

"Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage."

The second was working with schemes where men could do an activity and talk about how they were feeling at the same time, as opposed to traditional one-to-one sessions which may not suit everyone.

Mr Abotsie added: "The focus is not on mental health. If you ask a lot of men to come and talk about their emotions, they might not turn up."

Mr Abotsie said men of all ages were suffering more with mental ill health, so it was imperative to find ways to reach them.

"In particular I want to say they're not on their own," he said.

"It's about realising that actually there are others as well that are in similar situations.

"But there are many stories of those who have been through it and they've come out the other side, there's light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to make the right steps.

"That could start with your GP, or you can self refer to the Wellbeing Service online or by phone.

"The most important thing is talking. Keep on talking and remember asking for help is a sign of courage, it's a sign of strength."

In this special report this newspaper has brought together the first-person stories of 20 people - mostly men - who have experienced mental ill health, as well as the families affected when help has not been sought, and professionals trying to help.

Over the next four days we will be sharing the stories of men, their families, and health professionals, to show it is okay for men to talk about mental health.

- To share your story and get involved, tweet or send us a video using the hashtag #EDPOpenUp and tag @EDP24 - you can also email geraldine.scott@archant.co.uk.

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