Startling new findings from research commissioned by Movember reveal that a devastating number of men feel friendless. Whilst it showed that 51% of men have two or less close friends, an alarming 13% said they had no close friends. Men over 55 were the most isolated.
And while marriage offers lifelong support and companionship, the study shows that married men have some of the lowest levels of support outside the home.
While 11 per cent of single men said they had no friends to turn to in a serious situation, that rose to 15 per cent among married men.
Other new research by British charity “Calm” (Campaign Against Living Miserably) has found that more than four in 10 men have thought about taking their own lives at some point. It seems that a culture of stoicism in men and difficulty reaching out and making connections to other people is at least partly to blame for the problem.
In similar research carried out last year in Australia by Movember, 70 per cent of men said they didn’t reach out to others because they figured that problems are just part of life and something they had to suck up.
Earlier in my career when I worked in outplacement, I saw many men become isolated when they suddenly became unemployed. What they realized too late, was that most of their social contact came through work, and they had not taken the time to nurture friends outside this domain.
Similarly, men can become isolated because of divorce and relationship breakdown; through the discovery that their spouse was also their social secretary.
I believe the isolation that many men experience has a direct bearing on men being three times more likely to exceed the alcohol guidelines than women, and tragically accounting for 75% of suicides.
This issue covers all spectrum of society. In the last year, I personally know an orthopaedic surgeon, the CEO of a hospital, the Partner of a management consulting firm, and a senior banker who have taken their lives.
I have first-hand experience in what these men went through. When I went through severe depression I seemed incapable of reaching out to friends to discuss what was going on for me. Even when things got so dark and desperate that I made an attempt on my own life, I still couldn’t talk. I felt that I should have been able to solve my problems.
I now know that recovery from a crisis is not only possible, but if you are open to the lessons this turmoil presents, you can emerge stronger and more centred than before. Since recovering from my breakdown, I now place a high priority on regular contact with close male friends.
This is why I am so passionate about helping to change an unspoken crisis.
What should men do about this?
We must first acknowledge that there is a problem, and resolve to do something about it. We are much better to be proactive, than to wait for a crisis to occur.
In their book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, psychiatrists Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, show through their research that social support is a key pillar of resilience.
They recommend you ask yourself who you would think of when you read these statements:
“Who could you count on to help you if you had just been fired or expelled from school?”
“Who do you feel would help you if a family member very close to you died?”
“Among my friends or relatives there is someone I go to when I need good advice.”
These relationships should be cultivated. These are friends you should have at least fortnightly contact with.
What if you have no friend or family you can rely on?
Southwick and Charnley advise that social support is a process, not an event; it doesn’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, even if you feel friendless it is important to start somewhere. No matter how weak your network, you can take steps to increase its size and strength. For example, you may make a habit of smiling and saying hello to a neighbour or co-worker, or you may phone a family member who is lonely, or take time to have a coffee with friend who is going through divorce.
For those that are shy and lacking in self-confidence, they advise trying to attend social gatherings of any kind – join a hiking club, volunteer for a charity, enrol in a new course, or help out at a community event.
Another option is to join a support group. The range of support groups is limitless, so do your research and find one that is relevant.
If you have been struggling with low mood and/or anxiety for 7 days in a row, make time to see a GP or psychologist.
What can women do about this?
Acknowledge that there is a problem, and understand it is very healthy for men to have regular contact with their friends. Encourage them to seek help if they have been struggling for more than 7 days in a row.
Accept that for many men it is very hard to talk about emotions and feelings. Be sensitive to the male ego.
In When Someone You Love is Depressed, Rosen and Amador suggest that if a man has difficulty discussing feelings, he may react better to multiple choice. For example, “Are you feeling worried, sad or angry right now?” Engage in problem solving by asking the right questions.
We all need to play a role in solving this problem because the cost of doing nothing is too extreme.
NURTURE SELF – schedule quality time each week for people that are good for you – is ritual 3 in 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader. Down load the poster.
Graeme Cowan is Australasia’s #1 Leadership Resilience authority. He is an author and speaker who shows leaders how to create rituals that build their resilience, mood, and performance. To download his speaking brochure click here. If you have questions about his availability or suitability for presenting to your organisation please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +61 2 8005 0344