The age-old ‘men never ask for directions’ line has been around for so long that it rolls off the tongue without anyone giving it much thought. It’s often paired with an eyeroll or a shake of the head; it’s even something of a joke. It’s been used so frequently that I fear an important message has been lost.
If we take this moment to think about it, this line actually highlights a very real and long-standing problem...
Men don’t ask for directions = Men don’t ask for help.
This, of course, is an unfair statement on its own, as there are many men that do ask for directions, and maybe always have done. But our culture has certainly made it incredibly difficult for guys to feel comfortable doing so - up until recently anyway.
The idea that to ‘be a man’ means one has to be ‘strong’, and ’strong’ somehow equates to doing everything single-handedly, without help, or without complaint or a few tears, has been impressed upon men for so long that even those that don’t consider themselves stereotypically ‘masculine’ often don’t know how to express their vulnerability in front of others.
The old ‘man up’, ‘suck it up’ and ‘get on with it’ have pretty much left men no choice but to carry their children, the shopping, and the whole world on their shoulders simultaneously, without a safe space to simply ask “can I have a hand please?” This has turned into a pandemic of sorts. The latest stats tell us that in the UK:
Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45.
For many men, it’s a case of spending a lot of time in the driver's seat, appearing to be in control and feeling the pressure to be in control, even when the reality is quite different. The reality often involves driving around and getting lost - maybe for a long time - knowing (deep down) that asking for directions would make life a lot easier, but some form of uneasiness, discomfort or fear sets in. So the opportunity to pull over and ask for help is dismissed or ignored, time and time again.
Prince Harry has done a wonderful job at highlighting how important it is for men to talk about their emotions so they can improve their mental health. He admits that he spent many years determined to shut off his emotions after his mother died, and this lead him to a dark place until he decided to start talking about how he really felt.
“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realise that actually you’re part of quite a big club”
He puts a crucial emphasis on how one’s mental health needs to be taken care of just as one’s physical health must, and this publicity has opened up another road for men to take. It may seem a bit off the beaten track until we get used to it, but it’s surely the route that takes you to the beach!
These are important developments. Our culture is changing. We’re finally starting to admit that all of us - men and women alike - are all made of flesh and blood and FEELINGS.
Even though many men still don’t feel comfortable taking this road-less-travelled and opening up, it's important to remember that cultivating new habits takes time. So I encourage you to do some research! You’ll find likes of Rio Ferdinand, Stormzy and Professor Green (among others) opening up about their mental struggles, and it’s catching on! Pretty soon men everywhere will be asking for directions!
It doesn’t have to be big or scary. And it can start NOW.
Creating a more understanding culture is only one choice away for all of us - each of us has the power to take that all-important step towards improving our mental health.
So with this in mind, you can do two things. First, you can ask for help when you need it. People that care about you will be supportive. Trust them. Second, you can offer help to others. This doesn't just cover the practical things like giving someone a lift or setting up their computer, it can be as simple as asking your friend how they’re doing. And if someone asks you how you are doing, have the courage to be honest.
Take that step. Start that conversation.
There are many people you can talk to - family, friends, a trusted colleague, your GP, a trained counsellor or therapist, or even The Samaritans if you would rather talk to someone you don’t know.
iHasco are supporting The Samaritans this year. We’re raising money to help them with the wonderful work they do. They don’t offer advice - and they certainly don’t judge - they simply listen. You can call them free any day and at any time on 116 123.
These guys are awesome - Calm. They're a charity that is dedicated to men’s mental health, reducing suicide, helping people who have lost someone to suicide, and they’re doing fantastic work at campaigning for a man’s right to ask for help without fear of judgement.
Take a look at this:
Guys, have faith in yourself and others. Have faith in this changing culture that's creating a safe space for you to ask for directions. It's crucial to seek help and support so you can take charge of your mental health and prevent the unthinkable.
Please note: You can provide for your family and have mental struggles. You can be capable and vulnerable. You can be strong and sensitive.
Truth is, that’s exactly what you are .