by Dr John Barry
Picture this: Tommy goes to the pub with his mates two or three times a week for a pint or two. His wife knows they just joke around and talk football. She thinks going to the pub is a waste of time at best and unhealthy at worst. Tommy says he works hard all day and the pub is a good way to unwind. So who is right? Is the pub good or bad?
Although alcohol abuse is around twice as common in men than women, Liddon et al (2017) found that around a quarter of both men and women use drinking as a way of coping with stress. We know that women also deal with stress by talking about their feelings more than men do (Holloway et al, 2018), and men see a therapist less than women do, even when they are suicidal (Kung et al, 2003). Taken together, this suggests some men might tend to over-rely on the banter therapy of Dr Booze when facing emotional problems, thus more prone to getting drunk, externalising their feelings, getting into arguments, and ending up being treated by the prison services rather than the mental health services.
But what about men who drink moderately in the pub, and chat with their friends there? Well it seems this is a different category of behaviour, and there is evidence that moderate social drinking has mental / emotional health benefits.
A couple of recent studies, one from University of Oxford and the other from Glasgow Caledonian University, have good news for social drinkers. Dunbar et al (2017) ran a randomly stratified survey of 2254 UK adults and found that social drinkers tend to have a better support network, and feel more connected with their community. Emslie et al (2013) ran focus groups, and the feedback from 22 middle aged men was that the pub is a useful place where it is acceptable to talk about their feelings and mental health.
These two studies suggest that chatting with friends over a beer in the pub can be a way to prevent everyday stresses from building up. Although banter has got a bad name recently, perhaps this is part of the way that men feel more comfortable with talking about their feelings. Isolated or uncontrolled drinking isn’t healthy, but obviously that’s not what I am talking about here.
In reaching out to men, CALM leave their beer mats in pubs with their contact details. This is a smart move and throws a lifeline to men for whom social drinking isn’t getting rid of their stress, or who are drinking in unhealthy ways. These men might get a lot out of chatting on the CALM helpline, and might find themselves signposted to more traditional types of talking cures.
Perhaps it’s time to seriously reassess the high street pub as not a den of iniquity but a potentially beneficial source of community and social support, a place that facilitates connection with our fellow human beings. To the disinterested observer the pub might seem noisy and unsophisticated, but if the pub is a facilitator of wellbeing then maybe the disinterested observer needs to get a drink, relax, and join in. It’s easy to overlook the benefits of the high street pub, but perhaps we should see its demise as a cause for concern from a community mental health point of view.
CALM (campaign against living miserably) can be contacted here https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/
Find out how to save your local pub from closure http://www.camra.org.uk/pubs
About the author
John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Dunbar, R. I. M., Launay, J., Wlodarski, R., Robertson, C., Pearce, E., Carney, J., & MacCarron, P. (2017). Functional benefits of (modest) alcohol consumption. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(2), 118-133
Emslie, C., Hunt, K., & Lyons, A. (2013). The role of alcohol in forging and maintaining friendships amongst Scottish men in midlife. Health Psychology, 32(1), 33.
Holloway K, Seager M, Barry JA (2018). Are clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors overlooking the needs of their male clients? Clinical Psychology Forum, July 2018. Holloway et al 2018 sex differences in therapy author version
Liddon, L. Kingerlee, R. & Barry, J.A. (2017). Gender differences in preferences for psychological treatment, coping strategies, and triggers to help-seeking. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, doi: 10.1111/bjc.12147.