Thursday 24 May 2018

Men's mindful moments

  • From exercise to simply exhaling, little moments of self-care can make a big difference to men's mental health as they age

  • Sponsored by Healthy Ireland, a Government of Ireland initiative

A growing number of Irish men understand importance of safeguarding their mental health
A growing number of Irish men understand importance of safeguarding their mental health
Donal O'Shea
IFA president Joe Healy
Harm Luijkx with his wife Joanna Donnelly and sons Tobias and Casper age. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Derry Clarke

Tanya Sweeney

It's a widely held belief that women are particularly adept at keeping on top of their mental wellbeing; men, perhaps, not so much. And statistics hint at a 'wellbeing gap' between the genders. A recent HSE report outlined the prevalence of mental health issues specifically among an older male population.

There are several factors that may explain the gap: while it's thought that men are often reluctant to seek medical treatment in the event of a mental health challenge, other variables - geographical isolation, a relative lack of social networks, families growing up and moving away, deteriorating physical health - also have a part to play.

Yet a growing number of Irish men, happily, are becoming more aware of the importance of safeguarding their mental health. Amid busy work schedules and family life, many of them have learned the benefits of finding a mindful moment for themselves in the day. We spoke to a few of them on how they make focusing on their mental health work in today's fast-paced world.

To find out more information and tips on how you can mind your mental wellbeing, the Government's Healthy Ireland programme can help - visit gov.ie/healthyireland

TIPS FOR A HEALTH MIND

The HSE's #littlethings campaign offers tips to remind us that little things make a big difference as to how we feel. Some #littlethings that promote positive mental health include:

● Keeping active - Being active every day, something as simple as a walk, is proven to have a positive impact on your mood.

● Talking about your problems - Problems feel smaller when they are shared, without having to be solved or fixed. Just talking about it will do you good.

● Looking out for others - Lending an ear to someone else in trouble, or catching up with someone who seems distant, can change their day, or their lives. You don't have to fix it for them, just listening is a huge help.

● Doing things with others - Taking part in a group activity that you enjoy is proven to have a positive impact on how you feel, be it a game of football, joining a choir, volunteering within your community.

● Eating healthily - A regular healthy, balanced and nutritious diet will help both your physical, but also your mental health, and have a positive impact on how you feel.

● Staying in touch - Catching up with friends and family reminds us that we're part of a community, and has a positive impact on how we feel.

● Drinking less alcohol - For the average Irish drinker, reducing alcohol will have a positive impact on their health and mental wellbeing, making it easier to cope with day-to-day difficulties and stresses.

● Sleeping well - Getting a good night's sleep of seven or eight hours, as often as you can, will have a positive impact on how you feel. Protect your sleep if you can, it will do you good.

For more information on #Littlethings and the simple steps it takes to achieve them, see yourmentalhealth.ie or @littlethingshub

Sailing is enriching and humbling

Bryan Dobson, RTÉ broadcaster

Bryan Dobson had long harboured a love of sailing, and is a member of the Glenans Irish sailing club.

"It's the one thing that absorbs me physically and mentally," he reveals. "When you're on a boat, there's not much room for anything else. I come away really refreshed and invigorated. I'm always learning when I'm on a boat - it's like you become a child again. It's an enriching, humbling experience.

"One of the really rewarding aspects of being part of the club is that you meet lots of different types of people that you'd never meet otherwise."

As to whether he is open with the other men in his social circle about their mental health, he says, "I have male friends where we talk about other things, like sport or politics, and not so much 'what do you think about life?'

"There's certainly a lot more talk about [mental health issues], and it's a good thing. I'm conscious, now that I'm 57, that you can begin to have mental health issues later in life, whether it's because of retirement or changed circumstances. It's important to keep active and involved and engaged.

"I've always had pretty good mental health and as a family, we are very good at approaching things together," he says. "If things are getting us down, we talk about them openly."

Running with someone is a great for motivation

Harm Luijkx, Met Eireann forecaster

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Harm Luijkx with his wife Joanna Donnelly and sons Tobias and Casper age. Photo: Fergal Phillips
 

Harm is a huge fan of clearing his mental inventory by running with his family; wife Joanna Donnelly and children Nicky, Tobias and Casper.

"It's something you need to build up slowly, but once you're into it, it's great," he enthuses. "When you're older and feel you can still run, it's a very good feeling."

He advises would-be runners to buddy up with someone who can provide support and conversation. "If you have to go it alone three times a week, it can feel like a challenge but going with someone else is really helpful for motivating each other," he says.

Elsewhere, Harm keeps in regular contact with a group of friends in his native Netherlands, often with the help of technology. "It's important to spend time with your friends and to keep that up," he says. "You can definitely notice that women are better at it than men. They have their friends and make new contacts, through school, and men tend to lose their contacts and friends. I don't feel isolated here, but it did take me a while to get integrated. I have lots of acquaintances here, and a few good friends. But I make lots of arrangements to get out and meet my friends, especially when I go back to Holland. They give me a boost of energy."

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I got a bike and started cycling

Derry Clarke, chef/restaurateur

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Derry Clarke
 

"I'll be honest with you, for most of my life it was work, work, work," admits Derry. Yet the death of his son Andrew by suicide five years ago forced Derry to rethink his own health, both mental and physical.

"I got a bike and started cycling," he recalls "I found it a really brilliant therapy, mentally. It's hard to describe but it does work. I started going to the gym three times a week, too, and it pretty much changed everything. It can feel quite difficult to do that four or five times a week, but I've found that the one hard thing about it is walking into the gym. Once you're in, off you go."

At 60, Derry has noticed a small but perceptible change in the way Irish men talk about their feelings.

"Mental health was never talked about, but society is so much more understanding about things," he observes. "I was never a great communicator. I cycle with different groups now, made up of men and women of all ages and backgrounds. It's a really great way to get to know people."

I like to take time to stop on my commute

Donal O’Shea, endocrinologist/obesity expert

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Donal O'Shea
 

Amid a busy working life, Donal does his best to hit a 10,000-step target every day.

"My main activity is walking," he notes. "On busy days, when I'm working between two [hospital] sites, I have to check my step count and make sure I get out for a walk in the evening. I also do a few exercises every morning before I brush my teeth, like press-ups and back exercises. I also like to take time to stop on my commute every morning. Often I'll pull in off the M50 at Sandyford. You're high up and looking over the east coast, and it's great for getting a sense of perspective. I do worry that younger generations, with the constant Snapchat and Facebook and 24-hour news, that people aren't getting enough time to slow down, stop and think.

"The separation between mental and physical health is artificial, to be honest," he adds. "We know that to actively manage your weight, for instance, you have to manage your mental health and be more mindful of what you eat."

How would he rate the ongoing discussions with his colleagues about their own mental health? "I'd say somewhere between poor and very poor," he admits. "I can only think of a handful times where we would have discussed mental health issues in a personal manner as opposed to a professional one. It's a generational thing, I think. I'm hopeful that my kids, who are young adults, will be much more open about their mental health than we've been."

Getting back to the farm can be a great leveller

Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmer’s Association

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IFA president Joe Healy
 

By his own admission, there’s little that would make Joe stressed or anxious. If ever life feels busy or overwhelming, he loves to watch rugby, boxing, hurling or athletics as a way to switch off. Yet he is more than aware that many others in the farming profession have experienced anxiety and depression.

“For me, getting back to the farm and going through the herd can be a great leveller,” he says. “It brings me back to reality. But I’ve had friends down the years, and only later in life will they tell you that they weren’t in a good place. They’ll have bottled it up and I never noticed. There’s a different pride amongst the farming community, and the men especially are seen as burly, rugged and tough.”

The IFA has begun working to offer psychological support to its members. “We’ll have spoken to a lot of people who might have failed a TB test in inspections, or the bank closes in on a farm with a debt problem, and we encourage them to come to us with any problem they have. We tell them that they won’t have been the first person to experience that problem, and mental health issues only get worse if you don’t do anything about it,” says Joe. “The biggest issue is always the first chat.”

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