Tag Archives: mental health

How to stay healthier and happier for longer

In June 2016 I gave a TEDx Talk – ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ with mixed success. Following that scary but exciting experience, I resolved to write a series of blog posts under a ‘No man’s land umbrella. The blog posts attempt to explore the issues in my short talk and, in particular, to try to identify the roots of my mental ill-health over the past two decades.

12 months ago I published the first of my ‘No man’s land blog posts and, although I only intended it should be a year-long series, the posts continue. The more personal they get, the harder they are to write.

One thing that writing and reflection has done is to help me identify what I think has worked for me in keeping at bay for the past two years what Churchill famously described as his ‘black dog’. There are three main ingredients in my recipe for staying healthier and happier for longer, the first is connecting…

Connecting with people – I used to say with like-minded people, but some of my most interesting recent encounters have been with people with whom I disagree but who are prepared to debate in a grown-up and respectful way. It can be scary but exciting to have your views challenged!

Connecting with places – I believe the need to belong is powerful for many people. It’s one I associate with places as well as people and it can be something as simple as going into town knowing I’ll probably meet someone I know. But it still took me around five years after moving from London to a market town of 17,000 to get that level of connection.

Connecting with our feelings – perhaps the most difficult for many older men. I try hard to fight an inbred tendency to supress emotions, particularly negative ones, and I avoid talking about my innermost concerns. I haven’t yet cracked it and I know I’m not alone. I organise school reunions and it was only six months ago that a friend from school days admitted to me something he’d told only his wife until then – that he’d been sexually assaulted when he was nine years old.

Then there’s creating… I most enjoy being in a Men’s Shed, or any shed for that matter, when problem-solving and being creative – it’s the closest I come to experiencing what they call ‘flow’. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean creating stuff: making things; writing – stories, poetry; or cooking – creating a special meal, preferably to eat with others.  It could be gardening – growing plants of even creating natural colour in a garden, or maybe it’s artwork – painting or photography. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but I think it’s important that it’s something that pleases the creator; something that matters to them. And if it pleases others, so much the better.

I once made a wooden case for carrying and displaying books. I still remember my mum – forty years ago – looking at it in wonder and saying to me and others present ‘He made this! He took pieces of wood and he made this!’ She was so proud and, looking back, so was I.

The last ingredient for staying healthier and happier for longer is carrying on… When older people say ‘I want to die’ I don’t believe them. I think when older people really want to die they simply stop carrying on – and do so. Until then there’s something – anger, curiosity, love or something else – keeping them alive.

Carry on learning: There’s a famous Gandhi quote… ‘Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’re going to live for ever.’ I love it for urging us to never stop learning new things – facts, skills, whatever. We know that learning keeps our brains ticking over and wards off deterioration. I’m learning to hula hoop – there’s no time to explain why I took it up and my longer term plans if I succeed. Suffice it to say I’m still learning!

Some years ago I read a book called ‘How to Age by Anne Karpf. I was struck by her observation that we talk about ‘growing’ old but ageing is usually seen in negative terms – a winding down rather than a process of growth and development. The University of the Third Age is the fastest growing community organisation in my home town and that delights me (I’m hoping a new Men’s Shed will come a close second) as they share that thirst for learning in later life.

Carry on moving: For me that means running and walking, for others it may be swimming, cycling, even dancing. It doesn’t have to be long, hard or fast – just regular and enjoyable (which raises the brain’s serotonin and lowers cortisol; good for managing stress)

My wife works in the NHS and knows the stresses and strains that afflict the service. As  a consumer of a full range of medications over the past 20 years – from Prozac for depression to Alendronic Acid for osteoporosis – I consider it my duty to try to now stay clear of the health service for as long as possible through self-medication with connecting, creating, and carrying on.

Male, stale and in a Shed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo

No man’s land https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/?s=no+mans+land 

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Let’s talk about health and haircuts

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness week is 8-14 May but, like dogs at Christmas, talking about mental health is for life, not just one week a year. So what about the reference to ‘hair’ I hear you ask. Bear with me…

We all know that men (myself included) are not very good when it comes to talking about the ‘important stuff’ – personal feelings, health and wellbeing etc.

Great news then that various new campaigns – In Your Corner and Heads Together being just two – are focusing on removing the stigma around mental ill health and getting people to talk (particularly men) about emotional health.

One of the problem for well-meaning people is that they don’t quite know how the get conversations started – they worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’. But you needn’t worry – just starting a conversation is a major contribution in itself. Ask ‘how are you feeling today?’, resist the temptation to interrupt if there’s a pregnant pause, and above all, listen.

Choosing the right time is another concern – we all lead such active lives (which may be part of the problem!) and it’s easy to use ‘busy-ness’ as an excuse for delaying/ putting off the conversation.

Which is where hair comes in. Readers of an earlier blog will know I’m intrigued by the recent growth in the number (five at the last count) of barber shops in Royston where I live. Taking a lead from an initiative in London, I’ve launched a little local campaign – Two Heads – to get barbershops (a good place for head-to-heads) talking about men’s health. I’ve created a Facebook page and a resources pack for the five Royston barbers – with posters, a list of useful resources, including apps, organisations, and links to professionally produced information sheets. I’ve offered the barbers informal training in mental health awareness and the tell-tale signs of self-harm. Watch this space.

So what are you waiting for? Put together your own pack and get on down to your local barbers – whether or not you need a haircut (or, like me, have no hair worth cutting) – this Mental Health Awareness Week.

www.facebook.com/TwoHeadsHealth

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/hair-care-in-the-barbers-chair/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/be-in-your-mates-corner

https://www.headstogether.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Hair care – in the barber’s chair

royston-barbers‘There’s something about a barber’s chair, and the way the gown disables the arms, putting phones and real life out of reach. The mirror somehow forces introspection, under the caring eye and reassuring touch of a man who has seen it all.’ 

As those fine folk at Time to Change launch their latest campaign to raise awareness about, and reduce the stigma associated with, mental ill health, it seems like a good time to talk about barber shops. In your corner is the campaign targeting those men and boys least likely to talk about mental health. Which is where barbers come in.

This time last year journalist Simon Usborne re-visited his old barber in south-east London 25 years after first being sat on a plank for a short back and sides. Simon discovered another side to his barber Paul’s business – the male mental health care he’s been administering right there in his chair for over five decades.

As Simon observes: ‘For more than half a century [Paul] has watched hairlines recede, fashions change and lines around eyes map the advance of age and changing fortunes. New jobs, bereavement, illness, depression and big decisions: all of life has been here, and so has Paul. “It’s a peaceful place, you know,” he says. “There’s no rush here and you can talk.”

Such is the relationship between cutter and customer that five barbers in North London have received “first aid” training in mental health, to help them reach vulnerable young black men in particular who, Simon Usborne writes, can be even less inclined to reveal their suffering.

At a time when issues around male mental ill-health are at last, slowly, coming out of the closet to be discussed if not face-to-face, then should-to-shoulder in Men’s Sheds, and now face-to-scalp, it’s a welcome development – retell, as opposed to retail, therapy.

LawnMowerHead
Regular readers of this blog will know that hair is, unlike my own, a recurring theme– I have laughed at the expense of slap-heads like me, grown silly moustaches each Movember, and reminisced about the time the Guardian newspaper published my letter about anti-dandruff shampoo for men with beards – Chin and Chest.

I was thinking about this the other day when I noticed that in Royston where I live, like the miracle fix for Elton John and Wayne Rooney’s follicly-challenged pates, barber shops have started sprouting up all over the north Hertfordshire market town. No less than five have joined Royston’s nine women’s hairdressers – all this for a population of just 16,000 heads, and not all of us needing haircuts. Will any of them, I wonder, be hair today but gone tomorrow?

Further information:

royston-hair-spots

Going head-to-head: Those fourteen Royston hair carers in alphabetical order: Anderson’s  /  Archer’s /  Carlo & Co / Gio’s / Head Quarters / Hendrick’s  / Jane Hair Stylist /   Lordsman / Manmade/ Nina’s Hair /  Royston Gents / Saks /  Studio 26 / The Hair Boutique

Time to change In Your Corner campaign http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/share-your-corner

In Paul the barber’s chair http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/barbers-are-receiving-first-aid-training-in-mental-health-so-could-they-offer-the-best-talking-cure-a6882216.html

Balding and blogging https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/balding-and-blogging