This week is #MensHealthWeek which aims to heighten awareness around preventable health problems and encourage men to take action when first detecting symptoms, in order to receive successful treatment. This year directs a particular focus to diabetes, due to #DiabetesWeek occurring at the same time.
Men are more likely to get diabetes than women and they are more likely to suffer more serious side effects from the condition, and these numbers are sharply increasing. The age-standardised mortality rate for men with an underlying cause of death as diabetes mellitus is 40% higher than it is for women.
So why is this the case? There are many factors involved – research from Boots showed that men are less likely to follow up on symptoms and that they visit the doctors 20% less than females, therefore allowing the condition to progress and reduce the effectiveness of any associated treatment. Social stigma/gender roles can lead men to feel a general reluctance to be open about what they’re feeling, either physically or mentally, which can result in men feeling like they need to just “man up” and get on with it – which of course is extremely dangerous, and is sadly why the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 34 is suicide.
Many people with underlying mental health issues, anxieties, depression or even physical illness will turn to eating, or drugs, or alcohol, to escape rather than talk about it or seek help. This reaction can encourage a destructive cycle, which generally leads to further mental health problems or physical health problems – often both.
Whilst the awareness around men and mental health is very, very, gradually improving, we still have a long way to go and there will still be many people out there who feel they are alone in how they feel. I spoke to seven male Club Soda members about their physical health, mental health and their relationships with alcohol, to give a very personal insight into the struggles of many. The interview was anonymous, so each of them has been assigned a letter:
Firstly, the main focus of this year’s Men’s Health Week is diabetes, has this ever been a concern for you?
A) Yes, it has. I developed Type 2 Diabetes as a result of my unhealthy lifestyle (and even though I wasn’t overweight) and my Father and Grandfather both developed Type 2 Diabetes.
C) No not for me
D) I do think about it because both my parents went into type II from bad diet and drinking. I think that includes drinking too much. My mum has since lost a lot of weight and got her drinking under control so is out of the risk zone, though I still worry about my dad.
E) I’ve always been a typical “bloke” when it comes to any sort of illness, head in the sand, won’t happen to me blah blah blah. So I’ve never considered or worried about being diabetic, until being asked now…
F) Diabetes was a concern for me, when I was far heavier than I am now, when I was obese. I wasn’t diagnosed as having diabetes but I knew that I needed to do something about my weight.
G) Not for myself personally. My wife’s been a type 1 diabetic since she was 13 and is lucky to have the constitution of an ox so I’m aware of the consequences.
What’s your relationship with alcohol now?
A) Take it or leave it – it’s just alcohol and I am no longer afraid of it.
B) Day 5 of being alcohol-free, I would like to stop permanently
C) I rarely think about it after 15 years of sobriety
D) I have been sober for just over 20 months and super excited about getting to the 2-year milestone.
E) Although I’m only 13 days into my alcohol-free life, I am invigorated and quickly becoming quite passionate about being AF and the benefits it brings. I’m almost ready to say my relationship with alcohol is over, forever.
F) I have not had any alcohol since around the 20th of February 2017.
G) I’ve been on and (mainly) off since mid-Feb, currently on day 5 for about the 5th time.
Was your overall physical health a factor in you deciding to change your relationship with alcohol?
A) Absolutely. I don’t think that I would still be alive today if I hadn’t stopped drinking the way that I used to. It made me very ill. I almost lost a kidney, had 2 heart attacks, ruptured stomach ulcers and attempted suicide on more than one occasion, the last time leaving me in a coma and on life support with my family not knowing whether I would make it or not.
B) Yes, trying to lose weight and protect my liver and live longer
C) My anxiety, dts, and paranoia was a massive factor in quitting alcohol
D) Physical health was absolutely a key driver that led to the change. I wouldn’t say I had an everyday relationship with drinking, I could go weeks without a drink and would never drink at home. As a gay man it was difficult growing up and drinking was the enabler of me being more confident and assured. I had a bad breakdown in 2008 from work stress and then when I was signed off for 6 months I spent the time off getting smashed. When I finally went back to work I was in a worse place than when I went off. Then 3 years ago I felt very sick, anxious, heart racing and a friend told me to get to the gym and sort myself out. In late 2016 I paid £1,500 for a personal trainer and decided for the 8-week course to stop drinking. At the end of the 8 weeks I expected to start again but I didn’t.
E) It was more my mental rather than physical health that was the main factor, I considered the people I was hurting, my wasted days and the other downfalls of alcohol that were making me miserable. But physically I was a mess as well and can already see and feel a difference.
F) My mental health was, but not my physical health.
G) The main issue was really the lack of sleep and the resulting lethargy when combined with a hangover.
Diabetes has been linked to both alcohol and bad eating habits such as overeating or poor diet. Do you think these factors are often linked to, or are a result of, ill mental health?
A) They can be, although I do believe that there is more to “fixing” depression by simply eating and exercising more.
B) No, I don’t see a link there
C) I don’t know
D) Yes, I do – they have been drivers of my own mental health issues. I have had 3 stints in hospital with mental health issues starting back in my mid-teens often stemming from lack of confidence, self-identity and the after-effects of drinking paranoia. I now have friends that call on me for advice and support with their own mental and physical health issues.
E) I think they do yes, alcohol leads to bad eating usually, and those things combined lead to low self-esteem, and ultimately depression.
F) Yes, I think that they are. People can seek comfort/solace in various things including alcohol and overeating.
G) Definitely. Alcohol for me is a means to escape and on the odd days when a takeaway was in the mix the following day, it would pretty much be a total loss which I find frustrating. The less I drink, the more of an impact it seems to have on my mental state when I do. I’m not sure if this was just the norm before or whether I’m more sensitised to it now.
Was your mental health linked to your drinking? If so, how?
A) I think that it was. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia at a relatively young age. I was confused, I didn’t know what was going on and drinking was a way of escaping some of the things that happened in my life.
B) I believe alcohol was the direct cause of my depression. I used to believe my mind was weak, that it was lazy and trying to trick me into drinking. I blamed my mind for making me depressed. I realised my mind is incredibly strong, the alcohol was making me want alcohol. The depression was my mind sending me an SOS.
C) I drank to calm anxiety and withdrawals.
D) In part yes, I think the drinking made it worse or harder to cope and manage. Drinking often led to other things and bad life choices. I would also say that family issues, school bullying and general acceptance of one’s self are common mental health issues – drinking and escaping into hedonism are how you cope with this.
E) I always felt low for days after a lost weekend, it would take until Tuesday or sometimes even Wednesday to start to feel “normal” after a weekend of binge drinking. It made me feel weak, worthless, helpless sometimes.
F) Yeah in some way. I went back on anti-depressants in December 2016 and decided not to drink alcohol for a couple of months so that the medication would be working well. I had one bottle of beer on a Friday evening in February and woke up the next day feeling as though I’d travelled back to before I started taking anti-depressants. I then decided to not drink at all whilst I am on them. I was surprised, as I’d previously been able to have a bottle of beer, whilst on anti-depressants, with limited effects.
G) Incredibly. I never realised that I was using drink as an escape from stressful thinking until I had a decent run at quitting. Once I started getting to a week or so without drinking, the loss of my youngest sister (aged 35) in 2015 hit me really, really hard. Having unwittingly engaged with those thoughts and feelings, they seem to be easier to deal with as time goes by.
What have you noticed since quitting or cutting down on alcohol? Or what would you like to achieve if you’re struggling to change your relationship with alcohol still?
A) I am better equipped to deal with the conditions that I live with.
B) The moment I changed my mindset and perceptions to the above, it was literally a lightbulb moment. I decided to quit immediately, a huge weight was lifted from me and it felt like I was flooded with positive energy. The best part is, every time I remember that moment, even saying this now, I get the same rush. My mind f**king loves me now.
C) I am calmer and my anxiety is less now that I don’t drink.
D) Where do I start! I look better, I feel better, people comment on how young I look and how good my skin is and bright my eyes are. My relationship with my husband is better, I have more energy, more money, have paid off debt. I am more focused and I got promoted.
E) I can see a brighter future, a better life with more fulfilling relationships. The amount of positive impacts I see happening to others online with their sobriety only enforces my desire to be alcohol-free forever now, which is fantastic.
F) I have noticed that I have been able to be stable throughout a traumatic family situation. Knowing that I couldn’t have a drink meant that I was able to deal with that situation in the right ways, without having alcohol to escape.
G) Even though I’ve got a long way to go my sleep is astonishing, on occasions I think I may have been declared dead had a doctor been present. Scar tissue from a muscle rupture years ago no longer aches in the mornings. Resting heart rate peaks and troughs faithfully according to my drink patterns. I’d love to get back cycling regularly and then possibly running again once the energy levels get back up and the workload allows.
Do you find that as a man, it’s difficult to reach out and talk to someone about how you feel?
A) Yes. Very. Especially when you live with something like this that is happening all the time. It can be embarrassing, it is tiring to have to deal with it and it does make me feel weak at times as well.
B) I will never discuss my feelings with anyone, it was hard enough to admit to myself I had a problem. I don’t think it’s a man thing necessarily, some of us just don’t like to talk much.
C) Men are full of macho bravado when talking about alcohol, so it is difficult.
D) I have got much better at this, over the years I have been on some CBT style courses through work and as a people manager at work, I get emotional intelligence training. It is very much a learned skill and something I feel more comfortable with now. As a bipolar person I find my mental health to be very even now, I don’t have the same highs and lows I used to have. I think driven by more balance in my life and exercise and doing things like Tough Mudder and Triathlons
E) It can be, there is a lot of machismo around drinking and indeed mental health issues of course. It’s all “lightweight this” or “pull yourself together that” so for a man it can be intimidating to wear your heart on your sleeve in that respect.
F) It is, absolutely. It took this latest period of depression for me to start seeing a Counsellor. That has helped me greatly in talking about how I feel.
G) God yeah, I hate the thought of going public with what really goes on in my noodle. Ever have a dream when you’re sat on the loo and the cubicle sides all fall away to reveal you’re in the middle of a shopping centre and instantly starkers? I have and I think that sums it up!
What are your main ongoing struggles with regards to physical or mental health?
A) Living with these conditions. It is a constant work in progress and something that I have to address each and every day.
B) None, I know there’s a long way to go, but as long as I keep going, things will improve.
C) Social situations and paranoia are always an ongoing concern for me.
D) Avoiding ice cream and candy, I have a very sweet tooth. I am never full and I can eat and eat. I manage to keep fit but would love to drop my weight some more and have a more toned appearance. No mental health struggles, but maintaining my motivation and creating time to stay fit can be hard.
E) Self-confidence and self-worth have always been my downers, although I see myself differently since being alcohol-free, it goes to show how much of it was tied to the alcohol cycle.
F) I want to lose more weight and keep off the weight that I have already lost. I don’t have an awful lot of opportunity to get more exercise into my life though. I think that I will be able to do more, once the family situation is resolved.
G) Struggling for motivation to get a decent amount of exercise in at the moment. I can wake up really full of beans but the workload at this point in time means I end up in the office at 7:30. By the late afternoon, I can really get fatigued. I suspect that’s part of the detox process as well. I find I can get quite tetchy over really simple actions or statements that would normally pass me by after a few days AF. This has been my downfall on a few occasions when I’ve allowed it to spiral out of proportion. (Maybe I should vent more!)
What would you say to someone who is reading this, who is having a tough time coping and doesn’t know what to do?
A) As hard as it feels, reach out and speak to someone. There are always people who can relate to what you are going through and have been there, or are there. You are NEVER alone and that someone may not be in your circle right now, but they are around.
B) Realise that nothing will change unless you make a change. Everyone is different, some will benefit from talking to others and some are better doing it on their own. You know what works for you. Take responsibility for yourself, no one else can ultimately make you do anything.
C) Admit it to yourself and be honest.
D) Find a friend who you can talk to, look for someone who is a good listener – you have all the answers so they can help you. If you feel it is really bad then go see your doctor, that is what they are there for. Write down a plan, where do you want your life to be, what do you want to be doing, living etc – and then try and create a 3-5 year plan to get there and then focus on small steps that you can start now to get there.
E) Reach out to the groups online (Club Soda has been my main pillar of strength), read as much as you can (quit lit as it’s known really is enlightening), meditate, be mindful and you’ll begin to see yourself in a different light. If it feels really tough, go to your GP, speak to your family, your close friends, the people who really care about you will help and will still be there, forget about the ones that aren’t!
F) I would say that it would be a great idea to speak to someone, whether that be a telephone service like “Breathing Space” in Scotland or similar in the rest of the UK, or a Counsellor. It can often be easier to speak to a stranger than someone that you know. Take the step.
G) For me it has got to be communication. Vent, express your feelings to a safe audience, accept that past events might cause a few tears to fall, it may be painful but it’s a natural healing process. If needs be, go see your GP or a therapist. It can be a massive release just to talk about how you feel and support and understanding is out there. For me, as that process has evolved I’ve identified a few sources of unnecessary stress in my life and winkled them out. I’m still working through the rest!
What would your advice be to someone who thinks they may be drinking too much?
A) If you think you are, you probably are. Never, ever compare yourself to anyone else because a drinking problem is a deeply personal thing. If the thought of never having a drink again makes you nervous, then I would recommend finding a way to deal with it.
B) If you think you drink too much, you drink too much. If you’re ok with that, fine, but if not, decide you want to change. Don’t try. Do.
C) Same as my previous answer, admit it to yourself and be honest.
D) Join Club Soda and research mindful drinking. Keep a track of it to see what you are actually consuming vs what you think. Ask a friend to track it with you and then make a plan to cut down. If quitting is your goal and you drink lots, talk to your doctor first. There is no one rule for this you have to follow your own path, and make a plan that works for you.
E) Be true to yourself, track how much you drink and be totally honest about it, try alcohol-free days to see if you feel better than when you are drinking. It will open your eyes. Join the groups online, do your research, it is amazing how much info there is out there and how much support is at the tap of a keyboard. Most people know if they drink too much, it’s just very hard to admit to yourself, but once you do it really helps. Also try and avoid social situations where you would normally drink for a couple of weeks and see if you a) feel better and b) ask yourself if you have REALLY missed out on anything – chances are you haven’t…
F) I’ve not been in that situation, thankfully, but I would suggest that they see their GP or a nurse at their GP’s surgery to seek advice, support and guidance.
G) I feel like a bit of a pretender offering any advice but in these early months I’d say just keep going at it and be part of a community like Club Soda, it helps maintain focus and seeing others going through the same thing is reassuring. Trying to break a behaviour pattern formed over years isn’t easy for me. Meditation isn’t just a load of woo-woo, after a month or so it begins to exert really subtle changes on your mindset and provides a lot of relief during those wobbly moments. Plan the evenings ahead. Do anything.. well almost… DIY might be a step too far.
What’s been the key to your success around drinking? Or what do you feel you need to succeed on your journey?
A) Being 100% honest. Dealing with the emotions that go on that lead me towards having a drink.
B) Reading Club Soda on Facebook, it’s good to know there are many facing the same issues. But my key is being a stubborn b**tard, having a strong mind and taking it personally that alcohol has been controlling me. I take it as a f**king insult and I won’t have it.
C) My success around quitting was to minimise it and just say to myself that all I am doing is avoiding one small drink.
D) Re-training myself to go to social events and not need it and moving away from friends who don’t accept it. Focusing on the impact of waking up clear headed vs hungover. Celebrating and embracing the morning and fully committing to exercising every day.
E) My success so far has been down to equipping myself with a tool box of things that I lean on. Things like apps, quit lit (The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober was THE thing that made my mind up to be sober and how good it can and will be), Club Soda and the sobriety blogosphere, and starting to meditate and be mindful. I feel these will be the tools that will help me carry on with this life as well.
F) The key to my success has been the support of my family and friends. In explaining why I don’t drink, it has led to conversations about mental health as well.
G) Successes are obviously intermittent. It’d be useful to have an emergency crave box! Maybe have an AF beer in there, credit card sized reminders for an action plan, consequences of caving in.
If anything from this interviews resonates with you or you’ve felt inspired to reach out, then try talking to someone you trust or pay a visit to your GP.
Regarding diabetes and general physical health – don’t underrate staying on top of the following:
Some of the most common health concerns for young men are:
For practical advice about types of mental health problems, information about medication and alternative treatments, or services available, you can text Mind on 86463.
For emotional support: Call Samaritans free of charge, 24/7, on any day of the year on 116 123 (UK). If the thought of calling is overwhelming, you can text them on 07725 909090 when your symptoms are especially bad and a crisis counsellor will text with you. Or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online support group Elefriends is a safe online space where you can share how you’re feeling with people who are going through similar experiences to you and listen to others.
Other forms of support or advice can be found below: