The Daily Telegraph

As a man, I thought I didn’t need therapy. I was wrong.

Sam Delaney says that the profession­al help he finally turned to has made him a rare breed among his peers

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When Tony Soprano sat down with his therapist for the first time in episode one of the eponymous hit drama, he reflected the attitudes of most men towards therapy at the time when he said: “Look, it’s impossible for me to talk to a psychiatri­st.”

Audiences saw the Don of New Jersey wrestle with feelings of depression, anxiety and even existentia­l doubt for six seasons; this was not just a mob drama, but a whole new portrayal of men, mental health and therapy. That storyline – explored further in the prequel, Many Saints of Newark, which comes out next week – was credited at the time for an increase in American men seeking therapy. But that apparent watershed moment appears, 22 years later, to have been a false dawn: only 55 per cent of UK men who have experience­d depression will tell anyone about it, according to charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably), while the Mental Health foundation reports that only 36 per cent of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men.

I first approached therapy, like most others in my cohort, believing it was for weeds and weirdos: self-indulgent navel-gazers who were too busy overthinki­ng every detail of their existence to have a good time. I had grown up in a blokeish culture that discourage­d taking anything seriously – least of all yourself. Freewheeli­ng your way through with a smile and shrug was a prestigiou­s symbol of an earthy resilience. This is how I and pretty much all of my fellow 40somethin­gs saw it. Until we didn’t.

In my late 30s my drinking got out of hand. After numerous failed attempts at cutting down or quitting, I turned to therapy as a final roll of the dice. I had simply run out of other options. In recovery people refer to this as “the gift of desperatio­n”. First, it helped me get sober. But then it started to open my eyes to so much more about myself, my life, my worries and my behaviour. I became hooked.

I stopped drinking for good after my second therapy session in June 2015, two months after turning 40, and have been going back every Tuesday since. But Simon Gunning, CEO of Calm, says that while “there might be more men willing to admit to having mental health problems … mainstream society still expects men to be a weird mix of stoicism and strength”.

Luke Knight, 32, who served within the military police in Afghanista­n in 2013, knows this more than most. His experience­s in battle left him severely depressed and, at one point, contemplat­ing suicide. “I didn’t really acknowledg­e how bad things were because our unit didn’t take mental health seriously. The culture was ‘just get on with it’,” he says. “When I got back, I developed bad drinking and gambling habits and my wife left me. I realised I had problems, but therapy has never seemed like an option. I am from an old-fashioned family where people didn’t talk about feelings with strangers.”

According to Calm’s research, 84 per cent of men in the UK say they bottle up their emotions. The consequenc­es can be dire: on average in 2020 across England and Wales, 100 people a week died by suicide, three quarters of them

‘My friends and I skim the surface, playing down feelings for fear of looking vulnerable’

‘I believed it was for weirdos, too busy overthinki­ng their existence to have a good time’

male. Forty five per cent of men in the UK have, at some point, considered taking their own lives.

While mental health has become a more common topic of conversati­on among most of my male friends, we still tend to skim the surface – playing down the severity of our feeling for fear of looking too vulnerable or, worse, souring the atmosphere of social encounters.

“If I do open up about stress, I’m always quick to laugh it off and claim I’ve got it under control,” says Adam Upsill, a 42-year-old NHS worker from Leeds. “I tell myself: ‘what have I got to be low about? Look at all the real problems other people have’.”

This sense of shame and embarrassm­ent is far more prevalent in men than women, says Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatri­st at the Priory Hospital in Roehampton. “We take patients on a four-week programme and, with the men, the first week or two is spent listening to them saying they are fine. This is what men learn to tell themselves. Our job is to get them talking about their feelings openly, often for the first time in their entire lives.”

I first tried therapy in my mid-30s and didn’t really click with the individual a relative had recommende­d.

But when I sought help for my drinking, I discovered

Lizanne, herself a former addict, who was smart and insightful but also funny and sometimes even as profane as I was. I was disarmed, and the more I opened up, the more help I got.

Therapy can actually be fun; reflecting on the absurd ups and downs of life, how I can still respond to certain situations like a stroppy teenager. I notice negative patterns of behaviour in myself much more quickly now and am able to nip them in the bud. I equate my Tuesday therapy sessions with my Thursday personal training sessions: both are about ongoing maintenanc­e. I am making myself fitter – and more able to enjoy life, and its inevitable challenges.

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 ??  ?? Main, Tony Soprano in therapy, a theme continued in Many Saints of Newark, above. Inset right, writer Sam Delaney
Main, Tony Soprano in therapy, a theme continued in Many Saints of Newark, above. Inset right, writer Sam Delaney
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