How to Improve the Mental Fitness of Men in Financial Services
In a moving speech after the victory, mixed martial arts fighter Paddy Pimblett dedicated his recent win over opponent Jordan Leavitt to a friend who had taken his own life.
Pimblett’s words shed light on why men’s mental health is described as a ‘silent crisis’ – men are culturally conditioned to be strong and in control, which can lead them to repress their emotions and try to respond to social expectations of what masculinity means.
This can make it difficult for men who are going through difficult times to speak up and get the help they need, as they don’t want to be seen as weak. Left unchecked, it may lead men like Pimblett’s friend to commit suicide.
Statistically, suicide is more common among men than among women. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that around three-quarters of the 5,224 suicide deaths recorded in England and Wales in 2020 were male, following a consistent trend since the mid-1990s.
The Financial Conduct Authority’s emphasis on treating vulnerable clients fairly has led advisers to pay greater attention to the mental health of their clients. But what if it is the advisors themselves who are in trouble?
Many counselors are male and while their “soft skills” are likely to be more developed than males working in different industries, that doesn’t mean they find it easier to talk about the pressures they face and feel below average.
Sam Oakes, director of financial services recruitment company Recruit UK and host of The Financial Planner Life podcast is trying to change that. He has teamed up with UK charity Talk Club, a ‘mental fitness community for men’, to enable men in financial planning to talk and listen to each other.
“Talk Club is a place where men can talk openly in a non-stigmatized way when something is wrong,” says Oakes. “It’s about creating change by sharing and connecting with other men.”
Oakes says men who join her Talk Club will be asked how they rank on a scale of 1 to 10 and what’s good about their lives. The idea is that someone who may have had a stressful week might feel five out of 10, talk to other men, and remember things that make them happy. They can also think about what they can do to improve their mental well-being – yoga or a walk, for example – and come away feeling much better.
“There were a few of us at the first one I did and this guy said he hadn’t talked about what he had talked about in 20 years. It was like a weight had lifted,” says Oakes. “He had come in at six on the scale and left at eight. He was really grateful for that.”
The secret to Talk Club success is to look at things from a different perspective and reframe your thinking.
“You might be stressed out and can’t concentrate on anything, thinking ‘I’m weak, I can’t deliver and everyone around me thinks I’m weak’. But when you share what you feel, you lower your pride and let your guard down,” says Oakes. “People listening may have gone through the same thing.”
Oakes points out that by sharing, listening and identifying with what another man has said, the Talk Club message is that you are not alone. No one is allowed to pass judgment during these sessions, so men can share their feelings without fear of criticism.
“The biggest problem men have is saying that I can’t solve some of my problems, I need help,” says Oakes. “Talk Club is not therapy – it brings people together in one place, normalizing talking about how you feel.”
As someone who has struggled before not realizing there was a problem to be solved, Oakes knows from personal experience what he is talking about.
“Three years ago, I was depressed. I was anxious and drank too much,” he says. “I was at rock bottom but I didn’t know I was in need.”
When a friend suggested an AA group, Oakes gave it a try. “There were about fifty guys there. I listened to all their stories about why they were there and the different levels of their recovery,” he says. “There was a guy who lived down the street who hadn’t had a drink in five years, was telling his story. Just listening and being in that room, I was inspired and didn’t drink a drop of alcohol in three years.
Modern men don’t necessarily have the same kind of male support networks as their ancestors, who would have socialized with other men in their tribe and turned to their elders if they needed help.
“If men go to the pub with friends, it’s just joking. There’s no time to talk about how you feel and there’s a stigma attached to men showing emotions,” says Oakes. “But if men have the ability to let it out, they’ll end up in a happier place.”