Why (and how) we must be proactive rather than reactive with mental health
I was shocked to discover that the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK is suicide. WHO (World Health Organization) data shows that almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year, globally. These are the statistics for every death and does not factor in that more than 20 people, per death, will attempt suicide. What really shocked me was the disparity between male and female suicides. In the western world men die by suicide two to three times more often than women, despite women being more likely to be diagnosed with depression and attempt suicide. This is partly due to men carrying out more violent attempts, making them more likely to be completed before anyone can intervene. But is there more to it than that?
“Men are tough” – is that the problem? For generations there has been a cultural belief that “boys don’t cry”; this can condition men to suppress their feelings rather than dealing with them. A British Medical Journal study found general primary care consultation rates were 32% lower with men compared to women. This means men seek help for mental health issues less often than women. It’s not that men don’t have the same issues as women, but they are less likely to know that their difficulties are caused by mental health issues. Bear in mind that only one third of people who commit suicide are receiving treatment for mental health issues at the time.
What can happen if issues are left untreated? If these issues were to affect ones working ability or general attitude on-board, it is possible to lose a job and even become unemployable. If disorders were to continue to spiral out of control, it could eventually lead to failing to secure an ENG1 medical certificate. Suicide is, of course, one of the worst outcomes.
Mental Health First Aid – I recently watched Amanda Beaver speak at an event in Palma aimed at raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing. I found her passion for the subject absolutely infectious. Manda sees herself as the ‘community nurse’ to the yachting industry. She, like many of us struggle to understand why mental health first aid is not part of any of the official syllabi for the training crew receive. This is something she aims to change. Check out her page on facebook or reach out to her to find out more: facebook.com/mandajbeaver
Fireproof your mind to prevent these flames from rising. Much like the fire prevention/ fighting systems on yachts, it’s important to be proactive and protect yourself from potential problems. It has been scientifically proven that exercise has a direct relationship with mental health. So rather than hiding in your cabin or going to the pub, try to get out and about; head to the gym, go for a run or join a boot camp. Alternatively get involved with some sport such as cycling, swimming or water sports like wakeboarding, kitesurfing or paddle boarding. There’s always hiking, climbing and horse riding as well. Joining in with Palma Dogs on a Saturday morning will bring a feeling of involvement. A recent Harvard study found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for one hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Other research has shown that in addition to its depression fighting qualities, exercise can help with issues such as anxiety and ADHD as well as PTSD, trauma and general stress.
As I mentioned in my article last month (bit.ly/Nathan-Islander-June), also consider that eating habits and sleeping patterns have a big impact on mental health. Additionally, the use of drugs and alcohol are a major factor – ask yourself, am I being social or self-medicating?
This next paragraph was not as easy to write… I want to show you guys that I’m not just ranting on about the popular subject of the moment and that I do have real experience. I had a challenging childhood to say the least. This was partly due to family members suffering with various mental health issues which inevitably has an effect on others in a family. School was something I struggled with in particular and during my teens I found self-medication to be a way of escaping. I was lucky that from age 10 I had my horizons firmly set on becoming a sailing instructor, this has given me drive and motivation for the past 20 years and has become a rewarding career. I’ve learned how to function and work my way through life in the way society expects. One thing the recent drive about mental health and wellbeing awareness has done for me, is to give me to confidence to seek help for underlying issues that were never dealt with during my childhood.
Remember mental health is not limited to suicidal thoughts and personality disorders, it’s a lot more subtle than that. Many of us carry a lot of pain or trauma from the past which clouds and blocks us from moving forward. Counselling is a means of unpacking and challenging this to change behaviours and gain understanding about oneself. Changes that can lead to a greater enjoyment of life and a more rewarding one. By dealing with these things (whatever they may be for you), it reduces the chances of them becoming bigger issues later on.
So please don’t feel that you have to just ‘man up’! Choose a lifestyle which helps develop a healthy body and mind. Talk about your feelings and remember there is professional help out there to deal with things however big or small they may seem.