Belfast Telegraph

Conor urges Northern Ireland men to open up about their mental health

Conor McReynolds with bride-to-be Kirsty
Conor McReynolds with bride-to-be Kirsty
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Over a quarter of men fear their job could be at risk by discussing mental health at work - despite growing awareness of the male mental health crisis.

That's according to new research by Movember ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day which suggests the stigma surrounding the issue is still preventing men from talking about their problems and seeking help.

The study found that 43% of employed men would worry about colleagues making negative comments behind their backs, while 32% think they could be held back from promotion if they discussed mental health issues at work.

Around half (49%) of employed men also said they would be able to take time off work if they were struggling with mental health or other personal issues, according to the poll of UK men aged between 18 and 75.

Movember is committed to tackling the crisis in men's mental health through its investment in mental health programmes and encouraging men to talk openly about their problems.

Northern Ireland native Conor McReynolds (32) told how he had struggled with depression for over two years before he reached his lowest point and decided to take his own life on the night of the 2016 UEFA Champions League final.

"I went into my bathroom and I was 100% sure that I wasn't coming out," he said.

"I collapsed in a heap and my partner rushed in. What always sticks in my mind is 30 minutes after I thought I was going to kill myself, I saw Cristiano Ronaldo injured in the final.

"I'm just so grateful I got to see him injured and crying. If I'd died a half an hour before I would have missed that image, so that was great to see."

Three years on, Movember ambassador Conor, who is in a much better place in terms of his mental health, decided to share his story to help others.

The radio host revealed how he called off his wedding to partner Kirsty prior to being diagnosed with depression, and he told how he was able to get back on his feet again after taking three months off work.

"I really believe the combination of good friends, medication and talking therapy kept me alive," said Conor, who is due to marry Kirsty this October, and he wants his experience to help others struggling with mental health.

"If you're not feeling yourself, trust the people in your life," he said.

"If you place trust in people and tell them how you're feeling and ask for help, they will rise to it."

Three out of four suicides are carried out by men and it remains the biggest cause of death for males under the age of 44.

Indeed, new figures from the Office for National Statistics show an increase in suicides among men in the UK, who took their own lives at a rate of 17.2 per 100,000 compared with 15.5 in 2017.

Risk factors that increase a man's vulnerability to poor mental health and suicide include relationship breakdown, acute stress, persistent low mood and social isolation.

Movember's global mental health and suicide prevention director Brendan Maher said that although there has been "great progress in starting to talk openly" about feelings, many men remain worried about revealing mental health issues, especially in the workplace.

"We need to find effective ways of tackling that stigma so that men aren't discouraged from getting the help they need," he said.

"In the workplace, this can start with leaders encouraging conversations about the tough stuff and reminding staff that they won't be marked down and will be supported if they are struggling."

To coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, Movember's Man of More Words campaign is focused on encouraging men to open up when they are going through a tough time.

Through a series of videos and social media posts, the charity is sharing the stories of men who have benefited from speaking up.

Movember's research also shows that over three quarters of men (77%) polled believe that talking openly is an effective way of tackling problems.

"We're asking everyone to be a 'Man of More Words'," said Mr Maher.

"We know it can be sometimes difficult to have those conversations but it's crucial that people reach out to someone when they are facing a tough time.

"It could also mean reaching out to a friend who you think might be having a tough time - and taking the time to stop and really listen to him."

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