Men, Talk About Your Mental Health
If you’re a man that suffers from depression, anxiety or another ailment affecting your mental health, then it’s a fault of your own. There isn’t a chemical imbalance in your brain causing these feelings of despair and nothingness. You have failed in your mandate as a man, bring shame to your gender through your inability to control your thoughts, and your masculinity will be forever bruised.
It sounds ridiculous, yet is a poisonous idea that plagues our society’s view of mental health problems in men — but thankfully, it’s not true. The reality: you’re a big bag of bones made from a variety of metals and organic compounds, fuelled by an abundance of chemical reactions. Sometimes those reactions don’t go to plan and sometimes you have more or less of those chemicals than you should.
For your brain, these failed reactions and resultant imbalance can lead to depression, anxiety and a myriad of other mental health issues. Some of these leave you questioning your state as a real-life human being, your perception of the world around you, and at worst, whether you want to remain a part of it. It’s one of the worst situations to find yourself in, and yet a 2016 YouGov poll found that 28% of men ignore their mental health issues and choose not to visit their GP for treatment and assistance.
We men, proud and mighty, struggle to seek help for our psyche when the symptoms are as real as a broken leg or the common cold. It’s a symptom of a banal narrative of what it means to be a man: to discuss your negative thoughts and feelings and seek help for an invisible issue is in breach of your masculinity. Men are powerful, physical creatures that couldn’t possibly be susceptible to such common feelings as despair and perpetual negativity.
I am a man, comfortable with my masculinity, that suffers from chronic depression and general anxiety disorder (GAD). I’m excellent at covering it up when I need to, but awful at handling it when I don’t.
My depression and anxiety are a binary beast that rear their heads at the most unfortunate of times. When I hang out with friends, anxiety gets together with my mind to propose the most wild and irrational of ideas about what could go wrong; When I’m at work, depression reminds me that this is the best I’ll ever be, that nothing will ever be any better than what I am right now — it’d be best to just accept that I’ve peaked and give up. And worse, when I fall in love, the terrible twins of anxiety and depression team up to remind me that no, you’re not capable of feeling love or being loved — don’t even try it: find any excuse you can to avoid attachment, because it’ll surely go wrong anyway.
To anyone that doesn’t suffer from mental health issues, these thoughts sound dramatic, almost hyperbolic and as neurotic as it can get: yet they’re feelings that’ll affect me until the day I die — without my approval, and particularly not of my cause.
It took me a long time to accept that I wasn’t quite right — that this wouldn’t pass and that it wasn’t ‘all in my head’. Worst of all, it took me even longer to tell my close ones, and I’m not alone: the same 2016 YouGov Poll shows that over 35% of men waited ‘more than 2 years or have never disclosed a mental health problem to a friend or family member’. For me, things will never be perfect, but with my friends and family around me aware of the battles I have within myself every day, life is just that little bit easier. Writing this piece takes not just a physical effort, but an emotional effort to expose myself in such a candid way — but, it’s these steps and courage to improve that make me just that little better today than I was yesterday.
As we approach World Mental Health Day on October 10, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Take the steps to help yourself, and to better your mental health. Men that can talk about their emotions and feelings, in whichever way they feel fit, are far more powerful than those that can’t.