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Why we need to normalise self-care for men

Why self-care for men is so important

Men account for three-quarters of all suicides, yet they are less likely to access therapies to support their mental wellbeing. This is why self-care for men has never been so important - and shouldn't be treated as an afterthought or occasional treat.

We explore why the pressure from society on many men to 'stay strong' - and on many of us to prioritise work over our health and wellbeing - can be dangerous and harmful.

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What is self-care?

Self-care is what you do to protect and improve your physical and psychological health. It can take time and effort and is more than just pampering yourself.

Often, self-care for men is seen as taking a night off to go to the pub with friends or putting your feet up after work. And although having time to relax and socialise is very important, self-care is much more than this.

Self-care can mean saying 'no' to additional work projects when your workload is already too much to handle, or speaking to friends or family when you're struggling with your mental health.

It can also mean eating healthier and cutting back on takeaways, getting regular exercise, going on walks to clear your head and speaking to your doctor when you need to. It can also mean taking time to focus on yourself and the things you enjoy, or establishing a sleep routine.

Importantly, self-care can mean talking openly to friends, family, colleagues or healthcare professionals when you feel overwhelmed rather than keeping your feelings or emotions to yourself, which is something many men find difficult

Essentially, it's about looking after both your wellbeing and your mental health - and there are many different ways to do this.

Gendered views of self-care

Although there has been a greater focus on the importance of men looking after themselves, research suggests there are still gendered differences in who does self-care1.

Pressure from society

Counselling Directory member and psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, says there is a pressure from society for men to 'stay strong' and that is linked to the impression of having everything under control.

"As a result, men are seen to be weak if they show vulnerability or feel the need to look after their mental health," he explains. "Men are expected to keep calm and carry on and take it on the chin, which is unrealistic and unhealthy."

Pressure to be productive

In a society in which people are expected to work long hours, some men feel they must work as much as possible to prove their worth.

However, this isn't possible when we're being pulled in many different directions - for example, if you're juggling being an attentive dad while earning money to pay rent or bills. But by taking some time out for some self-care, it's possible to relieve some of the pressures of everyday life.

This can boost good mental health and help in managing stress, while relieving symptoms of anxiety and low mood. "There has been a stigma among men getting help for their mental health and so more needs to be done to normalise and destigmatise men's mental health needs," says Karahassan.

"More needs to be done around the physiology of how mental health leads not only to behavioural change, but also physical change in the brain," he adds. "Men - just as much as everyone else - need to understand that getting help for one's mental health can change us physically as well as mentally and emotionally."

Being viewed as selfish

Crucially, self-care is not synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. It means taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, function well and do the things you want and need to do, while caring for other people too.

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Why is self-care for men important?

Normalising self-care among men has never been more important. Three-quarters of suicides involve men2. Men are also less likely to access psychological therapies than women, with around one third of referrals to NHS talking therapies for men3.

Although self-care might not resolve mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, it can help create a greater awareness and understanding of negative thoughts and feelings. Looking after yourself also helps to build resilience and develop healthy habits and coping mechanisms too.

"Without self-care, your emotional state will decrease and men can find themselves feeling as if they have no way out of their plight, and in extreme cases suicidal," says Karahassan. "By making men's self-care normal and natural, we will be saving lives and changing the society, to improve mental health and reduce vulnerability among men."

How to engage in self-care

Self-care is different for everyone, depending on their needs. However, there are some general steps you can take to improve the way you feel.

Talk to trusted friends and family

Talking to people you trust can make a big difference - allowing you to think through any problems or how you feel.

Sometimes, you just need to let out how you're feeling with no real plan for a solution. At other times, speaking to friends or family can help you gain a different perspective on an issue.

"Talking to someone, whether professionally or otherwise, is a big step forwards that allows you to gain emotional space from your issues," says Karahassan.

Find a social support group

Men often find it harder to speak to people if they're struggling with their mental health or feeling overwhelmed - and it can be especially hard to speak to loved ones. But speaking to a local support group for men can make it easier.

Groups like Andy's Man Club and The Lions Barber Collective provide a safe space to chat without judgement. You'll be surrounded by others who may be experiencing similar difficult feelings, or just want some company. Being able to share how you feel can help to lift the weight of a problem off your shoulders.

Be kind to yourself

It's tempting to push yourself to do more, whether it's taking on too much work or agreeing to see lots of people, when you really want to relax at home.

There may be pressure to be productive and available all the time, but it's important to take stock of how you feel and what you need to stay well.

"Be kind to yourself; know that you have done nothing wrong by feeling the way you do." says Karahassan.

Visit your doctor when you need to

Self-care isn't just about the activities that you do on your own to promote their well-being. In 2019, researchers published a self-care framework in The British Medical Journal, emphasising that it includes the way we interact with healthcare systems too4.

This means self-care includes things like getting a vaccine, scheduling regular health screenings if necessary, or taking prescription medications on schedule.

It also includes seeking professional help for mental health problems, either by speaking to your doctor or by going to counselling.

Make small lifestyle changes

Small day-to-day changes can have a big impact on our well-being. This might mean eating at regular mealtimes, or working on your 'sleep hygiene' so you feel more rested.

It's not always easy to stick to these care routines, but they get easier over time as they turn into everyday habits.

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Further reading

  1. Narasimhan et al: The role of self-care interventions on men’s health-seeking behaviours to advance their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

  2. ONS: Suicides in England and Wales: 2022 registrations.

  3. NHS digital: Psychological Therapies, Annual report on the use of IAPT services, 2021-22.

  4. Narasimhan et al: Self-care interventions to advance health and wellbeing: A conceptual framework to inform normative guidance.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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