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Men and Wellbeing by Emma Dempsey

Men and Wellbeing by Emma Dempsey

I have been thinking a lot about men lately. Or more precisely the shifting roles of being a man and what that means in the world today. Having lost a family member to suicide in the last few years and raising my own little men it’s something that I am exploring more and more. I’m not alone in this, I see it being talked about in our mainstream media.

Here in the global west, we see books on display in our shops and well-known men discussing their lives as males openly, with honesty and vulnerability, dissecting the idea of masculinity and what it means to them.  My shelves are full of books on how best we can raise our boys in a world with conflicting messages.  The long-held ideas of being a “manly man” are being analysed by both men and women and the term “manning up” recognised as a destructive one. My clients are taking the time to explore what it means for them to be men in today’s world and unpicking and thinking about a lifetime of ideas and beliefs first introduced in boyhood. A fascinating and often challenging process.

As a mother of sons, a health specialist and a coach, I welcome this wholeheartedly.  It has long been discussed in development circles that Men’s mental wellbeing is being affected by outdated ideals of masculinity, but we are seeing this more and more in non-academic literature. And we see it in the statistics. Evidence shows that men are less likely than women to talk about how they are feeling and share their emotions, they are also less likely to seek help if they are not coping or feeling unwell. Research undertaken by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) in 2014 confirms that men and women respond differently to the pressures of modern life, this includes relationships and employment and that often men didn’t feel able to talk to people about their problems.

“Outmoded, incorrect and misplaced male self-beliefs are proving lethal and the traditional strong, silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves”

(CALM). Suicide is the leading cause of death of men under 40 in the UK. Not cancer and not heart disease but men killing themselves.

Having worked in health and development for over twenty years I am passionate about enabling others to thrive.  As a coach, I firmly believe in the power of the coaching relationship and using presence and dialogue to enable transformation. I am unable to think or talk about effective coaching without linking it to enhanced wellbeing. As Life Coaches, we are working with people’s wellbeing always.

So how can coaching have a positive effect on men’s wellbeing?

The coaching relationship is a unique one and one that is celebrated by coaches and clients alike. Not therapy, not treatment but a place of exploration and growth. It lends itself perfectly to engaging men in discussions around wellbeing and self-care and thus can be used as a preventative model. As coaches, we are not trained or qualified to work with complex mental health needs but can refer clients to the appropriate services.

However, our training and practice allow us the privileged position of facilitating conversations that can lead to true exploration. Exploration that can lead to changes in how clients think about their world and therefore changes to how they live their life. In conjunction with shifting social norms and a slow cultural change around how we perceive masculinity this can be an incredibly powerful thing for men today. Coaching conversations can enhance both wellbeing and lives, I see it time and time again in the work that I do. 

For the men that sit opposite me in the coaching space, this can be the first time that they have spoken about such things. Once this dialogue has started, clients often report back that they find themselves talking more personally in their daily lives and within their social groups. This open dialogue they tell me enables enhanced relationships, decreases anxiety and increases wellbeing.  A recent client discussed his ongoing workplace worries with a colleague, only for the colleague to share that he was experiencing the same thing. Relief was what they identified and they are now organising a workplace coaching programme for others within the organisation and to tap into the wellbeing at work agenda. This is no small thing. Increased wellbeing at work also leads to better productivity and retention, a win-win for employers thinking about investing in coaching programmes.

As coaching becomes more mainstream across the UK then this transformational dialogue becomes more common and men are able to utilise the coaching space. Coaching in the workplace is becoming more usual and is moving from just the white-collar worker to address the needs of a variety of people. We see coaching for social impact flourishing in places like prisons and schools and youth centers. Men who traditionally might not have had access to a coach are more able to engage and experience the process and benefit from the power of coaching.

The idea of prevention and early intervention is one that is increasingly advocated in health and public policy and could be used to enhance men’s mental health and wellbeing. Coaching fits well within this model, it is an effective means of increasing purposeful dialogue which is a powerful thing in terms of wellbeing. 

I  look forward to seeing the growth of quality coaching across all sectors and I know I am honoured to be part of it.

To find out more about Emma, visit her website here: www.forthcoaching.com

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