The 3 Subtle S’s That Are Crippling Men's Mental Health

By Milam Miller

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 8 years old and I had yet to learn how to ride my bicycle—that is, without training wheels. I was ready to be a “big boy,” but I thought to myself, “This is scary! This is unstable… this is going to be hard.”

Even worse, I thought, “What if I try and fall?” Does this phrase sound familiar? As adults, it goes something like this:

What if I try and fail?

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I recall trying… trying again… and again… over and over. There were many falls, and even tears at times. At some point, I envision a younger version of myself letting out a loud, exasperated “I suck at this! I’m a FAILURE!!”

We can all relate, right? At some point in our lives, we’ve all felt that universal ‘sucky feeling’ of being ‘bad’ at something; or, rather, exhibiting poor performance. It’s uncomfortable. And it certainly is not fun.

However, if we can embrace being a beginner, then we can start to build something called self-efficacy: an individual's belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.

What's holding men back from improving their well-being?

As autumn draws to a close and the stress of the holidays draws nearer, it’s important that we acknowledge the ongoing men’s mental health crisis that is currently unfolding today. Why? Because men are falling behind. For example, women are 15% more likely to obtain a Bachelor's degree over men, a stark contrast from 50 years ago.

Moreover, Richard Reeves – founder of the non-partisan think tank, the American Institute for Boys and Men – highlights the two most common words used by men when they feel their absolute lowest: useless and worthless.

That needs to change. No human being is useless or worthless.

It’s time that men stop avoiding what brings us fear or pain, so that we can start embracing what helps us feel empowered and healed. Here are what I like to call the three “Subtle S’s” that negatively impact mens’ mental health—and tips on how we can improve each element. While these may seem like mundane aspects of life, they carry great significance. If each man starts small with his actions, then he can begin to see big results over time. Let’s get to it:


The First "S": Sleep Quality

Most men know that 7-8 hours of sleep a night is good for us. However, many men are not prioritizing this component of their overall well-being. There can be a number of things getting in the way: sleep apnea, family duties, chronic work stress, or even distractions, such as binge-walking TV shows or playing video games.

TIP: Notice that this section is titled “Sleep Quality” not “Sleep Quantity”. Firstly, men need to stop putting so much pressure on themselves. Full stop. This extends to the pressure that comes with hitting a specific number of hours of sleep. Instead, get curious:

  • When do I typically go to bed?
  • How many times do I wake up throughout the night?
  • Do I snooze my alarm and, if not, at what time do I normally rise?

Personally, I find that my Whoop strap is a vital tool for me to track all of these metrics and adhere to a routine that has me feeling well-rested and, on some days, fully recovered from the strain of the previous day. Other factors that improve my quality of sleep:

  • Cold room set around 18 Celsius / 65 Fahrenheit
  • Drawing blackout curtains at home or wearing a sleep mask whilst traveling
  • Lavender pillow spray
  • White noise sound machine
  • Silent alarm or soft music


The Second "S": Sedentary Nature

Men have been told by thought-leaders to attempt to walk 10,000 steps per day. This has been challenged by doctors and some scholars, all of which have conflicting evidence that suggests you must hit varying metrics, higher or lower than this figure. However, what is widely undisputed is that humans were made to move. Our sedentary nature has evolved over time given our current, modern-day conveniences.

TIP: Men need to move their bodies, daily. Start by better understanding what this looks like in your life. If you’re only walking 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, then attempt to double it. If you live in an environment with extreme seasons of hot or cold, then notice in which months you walk more—find an indoor, temperature controlled facility during extreme seasons.

Movement means so much more than just taking steps; you can try out any number of modalities:

  • Group fitness classes
  • Strength training
  • Local run clubs
  • Yoga/Pilates
  • A new sport

As a general rule of thumb: If you feel stiff, then that is your body signaling to you that it’s time to move and play!

The Third "S": Saboteur Voice

For men, a saboteur voice is one that tries to sabotage our authentic nature and the actions that stem from this place. It can be a belittling voice in our head, AKA an inner critic. It’s important that we know who is doing the talking, because the way we think about ourselves impacts how we feel about ourselves. Oftentimes these thoughts, or fears, are not real threats. Our feelings are valid, yes, but we are not our negative thoughts.

In fact, the average human has 11 negative thoughts a day, including “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not good looking,” according to a January poll of over 2,000 people from StudyFinds. In order to combat this, we must build up our mental muscles so that we can easily identify, and quickly re-frame, these paralyzing fears into inspired actions.

TIP: A journal is an excellent way for men to track how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking at a specific moment in time. No, journals are not “just for girls” as this antiquated view only perpetuates toxic gender stereotypes. Just how the seasons change, so does our mood and the outlook we have on our life. Some changes happen quicker than others, so one of the best ways to improve our mental health is to get in tune with our intuition and recall past times when we have successfully overcome adversity.

To this extent, consider a past instance in which you were proud of yourself or a friend. Ask yourself, “How would I celebrate this version of myself?” Or, “What words of encouragement would I give to one of my buddies?”

Over time, as you apply this form of self-love, then you will notice shifts in your mindset:

In conclusion, men must make small, daily efforts to improve our mental health and overall well-being. These “Subtle S’s” can easily go unnoticed and unchecked. We have also become conditioned by society to be the “Competitor” or “The Provider”; however, the only person we are actually competing with is past versions of ourselves, so it’s time we start providing ourselves with the necessary mental tool kit to tackle life’s inevitable challenges.

At Knomii, we are here to help you every step of the way. Get in touch if you need help.

DISCLAIMER: Milam is not a licensed psychologist nor a registered therapist. He’s a trained Co-Active Coach. If you find yourself wanting additional help or support beyond a professional coach, then please refer to these leading organizations:

For the United Kingdom: These services offer confidential support from trained volunteers. You can talk about anything that's troubling you, no matter how difficult:

  • Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: jo@samaritans.org for a reply within 24 hours
  • Text "SHOUT" to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text "YM" if you're under 19
  • If you're under 19, you can also call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.

For the United States:

  • Call the Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787
  • Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org
  • You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741741
  • Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need.

Global: For more information on mental health, please visit the World Health Organization (WHO) website for information and resources.

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