Just reach out: A call to action for men's mental health

Why are men expected to ‘man up’ hide their emotions? Loneliness and depression knows no gender and need to be tackled evenly

By Ghenwa Yehia

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Thu 1 Feb 2024, 9:47 PM

Persistent loneliness can dramatically affect men’s mental health and results in conditions like depression or anxiety. In extreme cases, like that of 56-year-old Chris Haill, loneliness that leads to feelings of constant isolation can also trigger suicidal ideation or acts.

The British native, who has lived in Dubai for the past 10 years, identifies himself as a mental health advocate who talks openly about being a suicide survivor and about the many events and experiences that led to that moment of desperation – the most prominent being the lifelong thread of self-imposed isolation that became the tipping point.

“I had cultivated this persona of an outwardly confident guy who was so sure of himself – but inside I was completely the opposite: insecure, self-critical, and constantly questioning if I was enough. I turned to drugs which got me through the 90s and by the time it was 2000, I was severely addicted. People couldn’t see my loneliness because the drugs hid it so well.

“When I came to Dubai, I got sober and have been clean for 10 years. Still, at work, I’d get to a stage where even if things were going well, I didn’t believe I deserved it. So I lost my business and business partner, who was my best mate of 45 years. I got divorced from my wife because I didn’t know how to share my feelings with her. I never opened up to anyone. When you are suffering from severe depression, addiction, loneliness and suicidal thoughts every day, you become a good actor. I was lost.”

After his attempted suicide in January 2020, Haill has committed himself to encouraging men in his community to #JustReachOut to seek help.

“I truly believe that making meaningful connections can save a man’s life,” he said. “When toxic masculinity is internalised, it causes so much mental anguish for men in their minds. And when they feel like there’s no one to talk to about it, it’s isolating. It explains why suicide rates for men are higher in every demographic everywhere around the world.

“After sharing my story, I know I’ve saved lives and helped over 200 men find the right help. I don’t want anyone to get to where I did in 2020. Just reach out, because you don’t have to suffer alone.”

The mental health advocacy platform mentl.space, founded by Scott Armstrong, also seeks to normalise conversations around mental health and accessing services.

“I lost my father to mental health issues. He was a very successful CEO but he suffered from depression. He was one of the strongest guys I knew, but I think that made him very isolated because he couldn't talk to anybody.

“There is an isolation and aloneness that's created by the stigma of mental health, particularly for men and their ability to open up to the people around them. We grow up hearing things like we need to ‘man up’ or ‘deal with it’,” Armstrong explained. “We’re still expected to be the provider and hence, carry the pressure of financially supporting others. A lot of this creates insecurity and imposter syndrome when men don’t live up to society’s expectations and have no one to talk to about it in safe spaces.”

“So that was the thing that woke me up to mental health in the first place – wanting to change that stigma and how we view and talk about mental health and the loneliness and isolation that comes with it.”

Armstrong, a Dubai resident for over 15 years originally hailing from England, noted that Dubai is notably one of the best places to be right now in terms of mental health advocacy and access to services due to the change in recent legislature as well.

“The government has a stated aim that says it wants to be one of the happiest places in the world. They’ve introduced a new mental health law aimed at destigmatising mental health in the workplace which will have a huge impact on how men view mental health, and access it too. This will be a game changer.”

In May 2021, the American Perspectives Survey reported that only 27 per cent of men say they have six close friends – this number is half what it was 30 years ago. Further, 15 per cent of men say they have no close friends at all (up 500 per cent since1990).

Well-being advocate Kes-Smith Green of KSG Wellness Coaching and Training, who has lived in Dubai for over 11 years, doubles down on the idea of developing meaningful connections.

“We’re human and it’s biological. Sometimes, we just need somebody to be there to listen. Social media is a great tool if you use it well. We have a great group called British Dads Dubai and the men there are ready to support each other and be there for each other to talk.

“I encourage men to ask themselves the hard question: Is my loneliness impacting my life and moods? We all enjoy solitude but if your aloneness is impacting your mood, thoughts and well-being, then just reach out. There’s no shame in it. And it could save your life.”


More news from Lifestyle