Updated: Aug 11, 2020
The stigma around mens mental health, despite significant forward movement, is very much a thing.
As men, we don’t like to talk about our feelings.
I sit now and question why?
Why don’t we just talk about it?
This is easy for me to say now that I have opened up.
However 3-4 years ago things were very different. The idea of talking about my feelings back then was unfathomable. So prior to being open about my struggles, I bottled my emotions and instead opted to suffer in silence. I had my reasons of course, as we all do. It’s not easy to be vulnerable in a society that demands us to be tough.
The social conditioning of men encourages us when met with adversity is to firstly man up, be strong and don’t cry. Battles have been fought and won using this mindset.
We now have a completely different battle at hand.
For these 3-4 years I have been at war with my own mind. But the fight back has been strong and I do feel that I am on the verge of victory.
In this short passage I will discuss the key reasons as to why I didn’t open up about my mental health. Through this, I hope that you find comfort in knowing that if you are struggling to open up, you aren’t alone. Please do not be afraid, it is not a weakness. You are not weak and just one more time, you are not alone! My greatest strength was that I was able to accept that I wasn’t ok and that I needed some help. I hope, that when you are ready, that if you’re struggling, you will do as I did and speak out.
Speaking out is arguably the most difficult part. I of course didn’t do this for a really long time.
I had originally started feeling depressed back in December 2015. Initially it started slowly, but within 2-3 months it developed into a completely different beast. Following those few difficult months, I eventually did accept that I had a problem.
Due to a severe lack of education (and by lack of, I mean non existent) at school, university or even in work regarding the BIGGEST KILLER OF MEN UNDER THE AGE OF 45, I turned to the only source of information at my disposal.
I researched the symptoms, did an online test and the results came back confirmed, or at least according to Google. I had depression.
You’d think after that, I would just call the GP and ask for some help. Well I didn’t, my first reason for not doing so is this…
I didn’t think it would be taken seriously.
Throughout the first 8 months of feeling down, I didn’t think what I had was that big of a deal. I knew I was unwell, but through misconceptions and lack of education around mental health, I didn’t think I was ‘high risk’. I didn’t know that the scale of difference regarding mental health, was actually quite vast. For some reason I had it worked out that you had to be really suffering, to get any sort of support. This I believe is common and is an opinion shared by many.
Mental health can affect people in many different ways, there is an enormous scale to it.
Just because you may not be suicidal, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not depressed. It can reveal itself in many different forms. It really isn’t very straight forward. It is important to remember, that if in any way you may feel you have some symptoms. Theres nothing wrong with asking/looking for help. When I got the diagnosis, it put me at ease. Which probably sounds strange, but the main anxiety of it came when I was completely unsure and questioning everything.
I thought I could just work it out all by myself.
Over time I thought it would just get better. Once I had more money, a nice car, a house, nice clothes, etc, etc. I thought I was depressed purely based on my life situation.
This might well have been the worst misconception I had. By adopting and maintaining this method, I would essentially just spend the rest of my days chasing objects, in order to
make me feel happy. Now then, materialism is not necessarily bad. Please don’t punish yourself for rewarding hard work. If you like buying cars, watches, clothes etc, then there is nothing wrong with that. For my particular case, chasing material objects in order to make myself happy was and is unsustainable. It didn’t actually address the difficulties I was having and merely acted as plasters to cover up a wound. Really expensive plasters might add!
I was scared of the outcome.
The only minor information I had regarding mental health, was that it would potentially lead me to being institutionalised. Much like my first point, I thought mental health was black and white. I had no understanding of the scale in which it can differentiate. The way mental health had been portrayed, whether it be in books, tv or film, was always inaccurate. Due to, I go back to it again, a complete lack of basic education on the subject. Film and tv, was my only previous source of knowledge.
With more education on institutions, I would’ve felt a lot better about coming forward and asking for help. Knowing what I know now, I would have understood that using such a hospital, would be absolutely necessary for my recovery.
Alas, it was not.
Needing help with anything, irrespective of whether you require a little bit, or a lot, is NOT a sign of failure. If you get a headache and take some paracetamol does it make you failure? No, of course it doesn’t.
Fear of being picked on.
I moved to England from Wales when I was 8 years old. Geographically there isn’t a huge difference. But over here, I was different. After a brief stint of being picked on because of this difference, I had no intention of putting myself back in that position. To compliment this had always found that whatever downfall I had, people would attempt to use it against me in some way. Usually in the form of verbal abuse. My depression for me was another way in which I felt I could be picked on, so naturally I didn’t want to tell anyone.
I eventually had to tell people, as my situation had deteriorated and condition became visible. It was scary, of course, but over time it got easier.
Being able to openly talk about my feelings has been one of the best forms of therapy for me. This hesitation to do so, made things so much worse.
Since opening up, not one person has ever attempted to make fun of my situation, or treat me wrongly. It has always been met with positivity and I am often commended for my bravery. Perhaps had this been 10-20 years ago, when the awareness on the matter was severely lacking, then things may well have been very different.
I was embarrassed and felt like a failure.
Like many others, I feel the immense pressure to achieve great things in life.
When we hit certain ages, we feel that we’re supposed to have ticked off this unwritten list of achievements. University, high paying job, house, married, kids, dogs. Although there is no record of these guidelines actually being written, it’s difficult not to feel the pressure put on us. I continually compare myself to other people. I constantly wish for better and expect better of myself. Despite achieving many things in my life, at the point where depression really had its hold on me, I did not feel worthy of being proud of myself. I felt like my illness defined who I was and through that I felt a failure. I was 24 and I had depression and anxiety. Not something I was proud of, definitely not something I wanted to brag about.
I felt I had let my family down.
The people who had worked so hard to create a good life for me and the only thing I had to show for it was depression and anxiety.
Depression is not a failure, I am not a failure and you are not a failure. I’ve learnt to change the way I look at my illness. Hitting that painful low, was my brains way of telling me, ‘Mate, something needs to change.’ My illnesses do not define me, but without them, I do not believe I would be who I am today.
Since opening up, my journey has been made a hell of a lot easier, but it didn’t come without that hesitation. It is interesting that something that is so common, is seldom spoken about amongst men. Everyone has mental health and therefore having at least one difficult a point in life is something that probably 99.99% of us will face. Seeing as the majority of us are not professionals in this field, there is not much else we can do other than talk, listen, share and open up. From this, perhaps together, we can work to make each others mental health a little bit better!