Stress in a Mans World

On Tuesday the 26th November ‘The Times’ newspaper ran a piece in its supplement Times2. The focus of the articles was centred on both Stress and its effects in the modern professional sports scene.

Using Dr Jim Bolton’s assessment ~ “How Men Respond to Stress” ~ featured on page 3 of ‘The Times2’ issue, I want to examine and explore this specific subject in a little more depth and with a broader range. Dr Bolton’s words direct from his article appear in italics below.

Dr Bolton says in his article, “Stress can be an important triggering factor for a range of mental ill-health problems. We all tend to have different vulnerabilities so we may experience stress in different ways.” This statement at first glance seems to be obvious but, when we examine and relate this to your ‘normal, everyday bloke’, doing whatever he does (or doesn’t do) to earn a living, we need to be very mindful because such are the high percentages of ‘mental-ill-health’ in males (and females) in the UK today that no matter who we are or where we are, there will probably be someone within our ‘circle’ of family, friends or workmates, who is a sufferer (whether secretly or openly). The figures are enormous and alarming.

“If people become ill because of stress they commonly have depression or anxiety. Stress can also trigger other mental problems such as OCD. For some mental health problems, like depression, fewer men than women have their conditions diagnosed. This is not necessarily because such illnesses are less common in men but, because they (men) may be less likely to ask for help.” Owing to the probable word count restrictions in any given article this statement is obviously very lightweight in its focus. Of course depression, anxiety and OCD are common results or symptoms of stress but so too other important factors affecting and infecting the psyche of society. Alcoholism, domestic violence (1 in 4 households will experience domestic violent outbursts whether male causal or even female), PTSD, substance misuse and addictions, gambling, theft, criminal damage even homelessness; and with a whole range of other mental and emotional issues that are affected.

“Part of the reason why relates to what we as a society think it is to be a man (or woman). There is a traditional notion of masculinity ~ that big boys don’t cry” (they’ve even made hit records indoctrinating this statement within us in the past … 10CC as an example). “There is a risk that men may compare themselves to a gold standard of a decisive, independent man who is in charge and is invincible and hence would be less likely to seek help.” As a retired Police Officer, I can certainly attest to this. I recall many years ago, after one particular tragedy in Manchester (the Woolworths fire in 1979), a notice was placed on the Notice Boards at many Police Stations offering counselling for those who had taken part in the rescue and recovery of bodies and, guess what? Even after witnessing and taking part in the horrors of that tragic event, not one (Police Officer) volunteered. I know also that the Fire Brigade Stations had a similar offers and results. Indeed, I can recall many Police Officers verbally scoffing at the offer saying such things as “What would the other lads and lassies think of me if I was to undergo counselling for God’s sake?”

“Men don’t have different sorts of mental illness to women but problems may present themselves in different ways. So men are more likely to become irritable and ‘fly-off-the-handle’ at times and they are more likely to ‘self-medicate’ particularly with alcohol or drugs. Women tend to be more likely to discuss how they’re feeling. There is a danger of oversimplifying the issue but broadly men often do one or more of three things to try to cope with depression or stress.” Its very true, men and women are each human beings but, in the context of human activities, I would challenge a lot of what is being said by Dr Bolton. Where women are employed and engaged in a largely masculine world, such as the Police Force say or, in the Armed Services, there is another extra and particular pressure (not usually verbally stated) and which is subliminally exerted on women; the ethereal pressure that they should ‘act and be like your colleagues’ (men in this instance). By this I mean that I can remember the Policewomen having to show themselves to be as strong in a physical sense as well as in an emotional/mental context. It was to subliminally say to their male colleagues, “I am reliable and strong and you can rely on me”. This puts a little more pressure on the females that they have to contend with situations. At any rate, Police Officers (both male and female) needed to show their compatriots that they could be relied upon and so any show of mental or emotional weakness was to be and should be, hidden.

“They might be more likely to avoid it, for example by overworking. They might be more likely to try to numb it by using something like alcohol. They might try to escape it through various distractions for example, through an affair.” Research reveals a huge increase in alcohol consumption, gambling, extra-martial affairs, domestic violence, addictions and substance misuse amongst both the Uniformed Emergency Services and the Armed Services. So very many of the triggers for these trends is stress and mental-ill-health and yet, when treatments, strategies and forums are offered the pressure exerted (to be seen to cope) seems to increase. When I say this it’s because those who are in positions to make decisions on behalf of the many seem to shirk their responsibility of duty and care for those working under them. Why this is I can only guess. Probably it’s because of a number of factors; cost/expense of training and awareness education, ignorance of the facts, disbelief of the facts, avoidance of the issues and problems, intentionally diminishing the context (of stress and its effects) in favour of other perceived ‘more’ important contexts or subjects. Whatever it is, I see it and learn more of it happening … the evidence … almost daily. For instance, I recently approached a new “Police and Crime Commissioner” with an offer for “Awareness and Practice education in EQ emotional intelligence” for all Officers. I am convinced you see (having been there and done that) that EQ is desperately needed in this field of professionalism. The reply saddened me. Not even a personal reply, just some office assistant. She ‘apparently’ just didn’t see, didn’t appreciate or consider it important. In any event, her refusal to accept and/or acknowledge the specific problems of ‘stress in Officers’, that the EQ educational focus can help to diminish, means that for the foreseeable future, Police Officers on ‘her watch’, in her area of responsibility, will not have the opportunity to benefit from an accepted and acknowledged methodology. The outcomes will however mean that, over-working, tiredness, tensions, drinking more, using more, suffering more, committing more, will continue with her Officers which, not only negatively affects the individual (Officer) but also for all of those around them, their family included.

“The treatment for stress-related illness is the same for men and women but discussions about the problem may be different. As a psychiatrist, I often meet men who are very reluctant to talk about their feelings. I have to think carefully about how to broach the subject and to help people realise that mental illness is not due to a ‘weakness of character’ that conflicts with their view of what it is to be a man. I try to understand how they see themselves and how they experience and talk about their emotions.” We need to realise that society conditions us as to how we act, react and behave. The song ‘big boys don’t cry’ (by 10CC) is a typical example. But listen to mothers and fathers everyday on the play-grounds or even in the Supermarkets when their son falls and hurts himself. The common response is that they say something similar to, and such as “stop it, big boys don’t cry”.

This conditioning is so strong it lives, it grows, it survives and permeates in to manhood and womanhood. The reluctance to talk or even confess to having emotions for a man is normally huge.
Take a football crowd for instance, on a Saturday afternoon. Could you imagine it being acceptable for a man to cry with joy when his team scores or wins? Or go to the cinema (like I did recently) to watch “The Butler” or to a theatre to watch “Le Miserable”. I personally challenge any man not to be tearful when Jean Valjean sings “Bring Him Home”, but to even wipe the tears from your face in the theatre, for a man, really is very, very difficult. But it shouldn’t be, should it?

Now extend this reluctance to discussing emotions, about our anxieties and worries, our stresses, as a man, and you can see the connecting bridge. There are many answers, solutions and strategies but until we start to break down these high and very sturdy thick walls of self-defence behind which to ‘hide’, it is always going to be very problematic.

“Many people think we are moving towards an emotionally literate society where men are more likely to discuss how they are feeling. For some people however, particularly those in the middle years of their lives, they are caught between two generations ~ the strong silent view of masculinity that our parents and grandparents may (or will) have had and the more emotionally expressive younger generation.” It is true that very many businesses, occupations and vocations are becoming more emotionally literate or at least, ‘some of the bosses’ seem to be more open to the concepts and tenets of EQ emotional intelligence. Recent surveys found that 75% of the US’s Fortune 500 companies turn to EQ as a crucial and critical ‘soft skill’ requirement in their management structures and many of the top 100 FTSE companies in the UK are the same. And yet we still call them “soft skills”? And when we focus on areas such as; The Uniformed Emergency Services (Police, Fire, Rescue, Ambulance, Coast Guard), The Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force) and those male dominated careers (top tier Banking, Construction, etc`) and even within the sporting contexts, this emotional openness, this EQ emotional intelligence awareness, seems to both be lacking but crucially, to be avoided (by all and including the top or upper echelons).

In recent years I have witnessed the emotional breakdowns of some of the hardest (perceived) sportsmen in some of the hardest sporting activities (International Rugby Union, Boxing, Cricket, Football). Men you would never in a million years imagine them succumbing to their emotions and the stresses of their chosen careers. They make the dramatic headlines, splashed across every newspaper (in every country) on television news broadcasts and in specially filmed exposés. And men will talk about them; discuss them but, ultimately, distance themselves from them.

Is it brave of a man to ‘bury’ his feelings, his emotions, and his anxieties? Police Officers going ‘on-shift’ every day do not know what they will experience. Any and all of the Emergency Services personnel face the same ‘unknowable’ so how can they prepare themselves? Just today, reports of a helicopter crash in Glasgow, Scotland highlight what daunting work the Emergency Services face. Any and all of the Armed Service personnel face the same (or similar) and especially when abroad on active service. So what happens to these individuals (both men and women) who experience these traumatising events? “It comes with the job” is a common refrain. But this is not the point. It shouldn’t ‘come with the job’, should it? Men and women are suffering, today, right now as you are reading this, in silence, busy burying and hiding their emotions, which is very harmful and damaging because, just like a ‘pressure cooker’ left on the heat too long, something will blow, there will be consequences.

Our hearts and best wishes go out to Jonathon Trott, the International Cricketer, who is the latest sufferer to acknowledge their problems. Before him was Clark Carlisle the footballer. Before him was Frank Bruno the Boxer, and before them was John Kirwan and Keith Murdoc two former and famous (and VERY tough) All Black Rugby Union players … but there are so very many, millions in fact, of sufferers of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental maladies.

When we consider stress in society today, we need to think in terms of the ‘ordinary and normal bloke (or woman) in the street”, the ‘everyday’ man and woman, struggling to cope with what life is throwing at them; struggling financially, physically, and emotionally.

Businesses; companies large, small and very small, institutions (like the NHS), the professionals (all the Uniformed Emergency and Armed Services), all sports (whether professional or even amateur), everyone in fact, we need to be more mindful of just what stress can and does do. Mental ill-health is not just mental ill-health! It brings with it its own consequences; our physical and constitutional health is adversely affected, our immune systems depressed, mood swings, affecting our personal and work relationships, using avoidance tactics such as substance use and misuse, alcohol, gambling and each of these things in turn lead to anti-social behaviours such as assaults, domestic violence, theft (and other criminality) etc.

Of course, all of this is so very serious. But until all of this is regarded as serious, because everyone is still busy burying their heads in the sand, then the status quo will continue and individuals will continue to suffer and their relationships will suffer.

Many solutions are out there; there are many helping and understanding organisations who are willing to help, many training and educational facilities are available, it just takes the context to be accepted and taken seriously and given the requisite attention and finances to address it.

Don’t forget, the first true ‘counsellors’ available to everyone are their parents, friends, spouses. Professional counsellors are more than willing to help. Telephone help-lines abound. Educational facilities in such subjects as EQ emotional intelligence awareness are available. All it needs is for the door for our emotions to be opened and acknowledged AND the STIGMA of mental ill-health to be eradicated … then the benefits will start to be accrued.

PATHS (Practicing alternative thinking strategies) is presently being (increasingly) taught in our schools to young people but is now apparently being extended to include the older school children. PATHS uses just some of the tenets of EQ emotional intelligence. Isn’t it about time we started to include an adult version of PATHS ~ incorporating ‘ALL’ of the tenets of EQ emotional intelligence, in to all and every other adult educational and training activity? We think so! Lambda Mi Education & Development produces, designs and delivers the full range of issues … contact Lambda Mi today to discuss how we can facilitate a more meaningful product for you, your company, your employees and/or your members … STRESS needs answering and we can certainly help!

Michael Boase
Lambda Mi Education & Development

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