This year's Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, televised a week ago, were a wonderful celebration of great people overcoming serious challenges in circumstances you wouldn't want to even begin to imagine finding yourself in. One of these award winners was a lady whose words resonated with me quite strongly. She is Pamela Nugent awarded the Charity Champion Award. Pamela is a wonderful compassionate lady who in 2012 founded the Laurence Trust after her son died because he suffered from an eating disorder. The Laurence Trust works to raise awareness around eating disorders, but the focus is on the fact that men suffer these disorders. The Trust offers information and support to men suffering from eating disorders and to their famines. Pamela stands up for men with eating disorders because many of them suffer in silence. Sadly Pamela's son had kept his condition from his friends and family, who were deeply shocked at his death. She took steps to raise awareness so men will seek help before they reach their lowest ebb.

    Emotional stress comes from many sources, eating disorders, poor work life balance, heavy work load, poor management, bullying, isolation for many reasons not least in the role of Chief Executive or business owner and many others. There are some myths around about men and wellbeing. Some myths suggest that men can handle their own stress in their own way, others suggest men do not seek support or help when they are dealing with stress because seeking help is a weakness. There are other myths, many indicating that men can do without help, they just get on with things because they have to. The reality is that they do need help, they do need to look for support and this is not a weakness it is quite brave.

    The concern around this issue is that while it seems more men are seeking support there seems to be an absence of support mechanisms and interventions for them to use or get involved with. An example, look at your average yoga class, yoga being so good for your wellbeing on both physical and emotional levels, out of many classes of say 16 people, maybe at most there will be two men in attendance. Same applies to many other wellbeing classes such as Pilates, meditation, mindfulness. But, often, no one is advertising these classes saying women only, so why are there not more men in attendance. I could list so many emotional and physical support networks and very few will be used by men. Men may be seen in places like the gym, that is maybe a more male friendly environment perhaps. So if men are reluctant to seek support when they are heading for burnout, and when they do, they find there are few men friendly support zones, what then do we need to do to give men the support they need? What needs to be done to encourage men to use the support resources that are available right now?

    What is it that keeps men away from systems that will prevent them from reaching burnout and tipping over into a mental health problem? Men seem to be slower to ask for help. Why is that, is it that marketing is aimed at women because women are more open to self care? Do men see self care as a female place, a weak place maybe, only for those who lack confidence maybe?

    Today it is commonly understood that the lives of men and women are seriously full on. People are expected to give more than 100% at work, no matter who they work for. This is demanded from people on every level from shop floor to Chief Executive. Men will also share in caring responsibilities for both children and older family members. Men, like women, also suffer from lack of good work-life balance. Is it that they are not so good at self care?

    The scale appears to have tipped and changes in society and how we live our lives has eroded the support mechanisms that men once relied upon. I am not suggesting that women are having a good time, no way, but women seem to be better at seeking support and better at taking advantage of available support structures and they are open minded when it comes to advice and trends.

    There seems to continue to be a stigma around men seeking help. Do support networks need to reach out specifically and target men?

    Over the years I have worked with many personal development coaching clients who are men, many have been under serious stress and we have successfully worked together to head of burnout and take steps to deal with their particular stress. The difficulties and challenges men deal with are no different from those that women also deal with, but the cultural and system pressures are different. Not more difficult or easier but different. This difference appears to be morphing into a societal vacuum where support mechanisms for men are absent. I say 'appears' because I know that support mechanisms that currently exist are not necessarily gender specific, but men do not seem to turn to them or take advantage of them, or perceive them to be there for them.

    Do we need to take steps to create male friendly emotional and wellbeing support mechanisms? I believe we do, and we need to do this to prevent burn out and emotional breakdown. We must start asking more questions around why men find themselves isolated at a time when they are in need of support, information and guidance. We need to step up and find a way to welcome men to the wonderful emotional wellbeing world that exists out there. This help and support is not gender specific because stress, burnout, depression and emotional challenges are not gender specific.

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    What do these have in common? Strange though it may seem, there is a relationship here. What brought this to mind was an item I read in The Sunday Times, (Daydream Believers, Jessica Brinton,17 March 2013). An article written around procrastination, a bit tongue in cheek, pointed out that although it’s not necessarily a good practice for a flourishing career, it can in some ways give some, who practice it, the space to produce creative thought.

    In some sense I can understand this idea, we often tell ourselves to step away from something we are working on so that the space will help us find inspiration. When we forget something we find it pops back into our memory when we actively stop thinking about it for a while. This is the sort of line being taken by the writer of the article, but is it that simple. I do believe that some people do find inspiration and creativity in procrastination because on some level of their conscious awareness they are actively and deliberately procrastinating.

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