Spike expected in demand for men’s mental health services as double bill production sheds light on issue
Mental ill health in men has been called an epidemic. Health correspondent Geraldine Scott looks at why men are struggling, and what is being done to highlight the issue.
The rate of suicide in men may be at its lowest rate in 30 years, but men are still three times as likely to take their own lives as women.
Between 2015 and 2017, 187 men took their own lives in Norfolk, compared to 64 women.
In Suffolk, 136 men took their own lives, compared to 38 women in the same time period.
Gabriel Abotsie, the region’s mental health trust’s men’s wellbeing nursing lead, said: “Men are often reluctant to seek help for problems like stress and anxiety. Compared with women, they also tend to let problems develop and become more serious before they do get help.
“As a general rule, men are also not as good as women at talking to friends about problems and can bottle things up.
“It’s also sometimes the case that men will self-medicate to cope with problems by drinking excessively or taking drugs.”
At this time of year, services tend to come under more pressure.
Nesta Reeve, consultant clinical psychologist and clinical lead for Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney “It’s too early to say what the situation will be in 2019 but we tend to be busy again in the first three months of the new year, which was certainly the case in 2018.
“It’s hard to say precisely why, but it probably has something to do with people being particularly busy in the weeks immediately running up to Christmas.
“Christmas itself can be stressful but the fallout doesn’t always become evident until after Christmas and into the new year.
“That’s also when people realise they may have debts from Christmas spending, and the cumulative effect of short days with reduced natural light can affect mood at this time of year.”
The focus on men’s mental health at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) was launched with their men’s wellbeing project in 2016.
Mr Abotsie said this was to “encourage men to talk more openly about their emotions, improve their access to mental health services and promote education and social inclusion”.
And since then a number of activities have been launched including All to Play For, which runs football groups in partnership with Active Norfolk and the Premier Foundation.
Dr Ben Marshall, acting head of support services at charity Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind, said it was these types of groups which were getting through to men.
He said: “Emerging evidence indicates that men often benefit more from ‘shoulder to shoulder’ activities than conventional ‘face to face’ interventions.
“This means having a shared activity alongside which mental health support can be delivered, so it’s what is behind the success of things nationally like the Men’s Shed movement.”
But the drive was also about making more people aware of mental ill health - as Mr Abotsie said around 70pc of people who take their own life had not tried to access mental health support.
And that is one of the aims of two new productions from a Norwich-based amateur theatre company, Amplify Theatre.
The company is performing a double bill of plays in March to raise awareness of male suicide.
Breathing Corpses, written by Laura Wade, and Tommy, a newly written piece by University of East Anglia (UEA) student Sebastian Garbacz, are the plays being performed as part of the double bill, the company’s first production.
Both plays offer an insight into the reasons which lead men towards suicide, and more importantly, highlight how their feelings of isolation contribute to the decision.
Artistic director Izzy Cutler said: “This is such an important topic which is why we have decided to do not one but two plays on the subject for our first ever production.
“By performing these plays, we are exploring some of the different reasons that lead to suicide and the effect it can have on other people.
“It also gives us a chance to explore how opinions have changed in the last decade, with Breathing Corpses written in 2005 and Tommy written this year.
“What we really hope to achieve is to start a conversation within the community about male mental health and suicide.
“We want to break down the stigma and encourage people to seek help when needed and be unafraid to speak out. Theatre is a perfect medium in which to open minds and achieve that.”
• People aged 16 or over can access their support through their GP, or they can self-refer on www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or by calling 0300 123 1503.