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International Men’s Day: A Phone Call Saved Steen from Going Down with a Bang

Short fuse, anger, and a tendency to withdraw. These are some of the barriers that block men's chances of getting help, when they are struggling or stressed. In Denmark, about one in seven men struggle. And if he needs help, it often requires a proactive approach.

Project leader Steen Pallisdal did not react on his own when, some time after his mother’s death in 2022, he began to find tasks at the transport company DSV increasingly overwhelming, says the 55-year-old father of three school-aged children:

“I was well aware that I was sad. I had a short fuse with the children and couldn’t manage my tasks. I was also physically deteriorating and not exercising,” says Steen Pallisdal, whose salvation came in a phone call from the company’s external psychological response team:

“The call came at a time when I was not sharp enough to figure out what I needed,” says Steen Pallisdal, who has no doubt that the phone call saved him from going down with a bang:

“It gave me a boost in the direction of getting my act together and picking myself up instead of continuing the spiral downwards in such a form of self-reinforcing self-pity.”

The phone call from the psychological advisor was initiated because Steen Pallisdal’s company chose to offer its employees Howdy, where all employees answer every fortnight, triggering a call if wellbeing suddenly drops. Notably, without the boss and colleagues being informed.

Psychologist: Anonymous help breaks taboo on weakness

The latter is a very important factor if we are to help men prevent mental problems, which for men more often than women, can develop into, for example, substance abuse problems, says psychologist Stefan Czartoryski:

“Most men do not want to show weakness by involving others in their problems. Therefore, an anonymous and proactive method to check on one’s own wellbeing can be particularly good support for men.”

Psychologist Stefan Czartoryski himself suffers from the nerve disease sclerosis, which took several years to diagnose:

“I was always tired and eventually began to drag one leg,” says Stefan Czartoryski, who initially suspected his illness to be a postnatal depression or reactions to a job change. So he did not react immediately:

“I was raised not to whine, and I should not be a sissy. So I just let it be. I think that is very typical for men. Women are better at talking to each other about how they are feeling, while men just want to perform,” elaborates Stefan Czartoryski, who today takes large amounts of medication to slow the progression of the debilitating disease sclerosis.

Nature Agency: Green men get help with wellbeing

At the Nature Agency’s Operations Centre, where 200,000 hectares of state forests and natural areas are managed, Howdy has been used for the past seven years.

And here, boss Peter Chrois Møller has experienced that especially the male employees, such as the machine operators working in the forests, are harder to reach than the office staff:

“But over time, several of these employees have come forward and told that an anonymous contact with a psychological advisor has helped them,” says Peter Chrois Møller, who also sees an advantage from the boss’s side in having a preventive approach for his employees:

“We must look out for the silent majority, who express that everything is fine. There are often some hanging over in the corner, and it’s hard to spot them.”

Svend Aage Madsen: We should ask men different questions

Male researcher and psychologist specialising in men’s wellbeing at the Forum for Men’s Health, Svend Aage Madsen, also sees a clear tendency that we start too late in helping men when they are not doing well.

According to studies from the Forum for Men’s Health, about a fifth of all men lack someone to talk to confidentially, and this creates problems:

“We talk more about stress today. But when we listen to, for example, the party leaders who have experienced severe stress, it is classic that it is only too late that they talk about it. We are generally not good at detecting the men who are doing poorly,” says Svend Aage Madsen, who believes we can reach more men if we use the language correctly:

“If we ask: Do you feel lonely? Then many women might say yes, while men say no. If we instead ask: Do you have someone to talk to? Then more men will come forward and say no,” says Svend Aage Madsen, further emphasizing that men are more likely to display behaviour in connection with distress, which sets up barriers to help. For example, because they become angry and irritable. Or they withdraw:

“It is so important that we as colleagues, professionals and family become good at seeing the early signs that men are doing poorly, so we avoid the downturn they can get into when distress develops into, for example, anger, alcohol abuse and in the worst case, suicide.”

Sunday, 19 November 2023, about 70 countries worldwide will focus on men's mental health with the observance day International Men’s Day. In Denmark, according to the Danish National Health Survey (2021), about 15% of the adult male population report problems with their mental health. For women, it's about 20% who struggle with mental problems.

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