Sana Govender Ambassador for Movember and Development Officer for Munster Rugby.

Why men don’t want to talk about it

Geraldine Fitzgerald

Sana Govender is an ambassador for Movember; a great call given the fact that he’s a straight-talking coach and behavioural psychologist who doesn’t shy away from discussing his own issues.

Sana is the Development Officer for Munster Rugby and grew up in Skibbereen. Even as he was neck-deep in his Psychology Masters, the distance between academia and real life didn’t hit him until a relationship break-up caused an already wobbly scaffolding of stress, pressure and internalised emotions to come crashing down.

“When I was growing up, I had a chair in the corner of my room where I dumped coats, jackets, bags - everything. I used to do the same with my emotions - shoved them all into a corner of my mind and kept dumping,” he says. “I was conditioned not to show, or to discuss, my feelings and I basically just cracked.”

Luckily a friend noticed and checked in with him, and ever since, Sana has been a huge advocate of men’s mental health. The stories behind the suicide statistics we have in Ireland are varied and complex, but he feels that a fear of showing vulnerability is at the heart of many.

“We’re not taught coping skills at school, or how to alleviate mental pressure; instead we learn to tough it out; man up; get on with things.”

Some turn to non-helpful coping strategies like alcohol, or wear a mask daily, pretending everything is grand. “Until it’s not,” he says. “Embracing vulnerability is not a cultural norm for men here or in many other countries. It has somehow been perceived as weakness. It’s the opposite – if you really want to man up, man up for yourself.”

Men get into the mindset of being pragmatic, stuffing away feelings until there’s an emotional overflow manifesting in anger or self-sabotage as a reactionary behaviour.

“Everything that happens to you elicits some kind of response. Ask yourself, do I react or respond? Reacting is often knee-jerk but responding is more controlled; considered; conscious. It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight; it evolves.”

“Many men won’t even acknowledge mental health as a thing. Years of conditioning mean we’re great at ignoring it for pragmatic things. In fact, we are a product of everything that has happened to us in our lives, and not seeing that is not conductive to good mental health. Things won’t go away until you process them, not keeping dumping them in the corner of your head.”

“Be open, and self-aware. Ask yourself how am I feeling today? What are my thoughts and emotions? How do I really feel and why? You can write it down if that helps, and the more you practice, the more comfortable and real it becomes.

“Breathing techniques, such a circular or box breathing, are highly effective. Some guys go to the gym every day to keep their bodies in shape as you can see the results – we can’t see our mind, but practicing self-awareness means you’ll feel the results.”

Check in with a friend, or chat to your GP if you’re struggling; they can refer you to somebody if you need it. Sharing how you feel doesn’t make you weak; it makes you resilient from the inside out. There’s no need to drown in a sea of unexpressed emotions.

“Men are hesitant and scared about being vulnerable,” says Sana. “I say embrace it. Life comes at us in waves, and we learn to ride those waves.”