An honest blog sharing the ups and downs of my personal mental health journey

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Men - I'm Talking To You!

Now we're in November it seems like a pretty good time to focus on the importance of men's mental health (however, all the time should be a good time!)

For the whole of November, The Movember Foundation are once again calling on all 'Mo Bros' and 'Mo Sistas' to 'Grow, Move and Host' their way through November (and beyond) to raise funds for men's health.

The Movember Foundation is one of the leading charities for men's health in the UK, and men's mental health and suicide prevention are amongst the main causes it supports.

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) is an award winning charity also dedicated to male suicide prevention, and has tons of ways you can get involved and raise money all year round.

Not only do these charities have lots of different fundraising options, they have heaps of helpful information and contacts for anyone that needs mental health help or advice.

Statistics on the CALM website show suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.

75% of suicides in the UK in 2015 were male.  Something has to change.

If you or someone you know is feeling vulnerable and needs to speak to someone urgently please remember you can call Samaritans on 116 123.

To mark the importance of
The Movember Foundation, CALM and men's mental health in general, I have called upon three willing male contributors to talk about what mental health means to them, their own personal experiences and why banishing stigma and raising awareness really is so bloody important. 

So, without further ado, I introduce to you my three fabulous 'Mo Bros' - Tom, Nick and Paul.

Tom, 28, soon to be qualified CBT therapist who works full time in Bucks and is originally from Somerset.
Tom says, "I have been interested in mental health since around the age of 14, and at 20 decided to become a therapist and have been working towards that ever since. My career aspirations in life are to one day open up my own practise, complete a masters degree in Mindfulness-based CBT and incorporate this within my practise".

Nick, 36, lives in Bristol and works for Vodafone. He is currently raising money for The Movember Foundation and you can donate to the amazing cause here.

Paul is father of 2, a husband, a big fan of Liverpool FC and mental health speaker and author.
Paul says, "9 years a go, out of the blue, I lost my Dad to suicide. I didn't know how to deal with it, I bottled up that grief and soon found myself in times of despair. Now, I share openly about my story to help others who might be suffering in silence". Be sure to check out Paul's amazing blog, amongst other great things, here.

Hi guys! Thanks so much for allowing me to pick your brains for my new blog post. 

This post is dedicated to you men, and I wanted to ask you some questions in regards to your own personal experiences and what you would like to see happen in the future of men's mental health. 

So, to begin - what does mental health mean to you?

T: I would say, I don’t think of mental health as being ‘black or white’, like an on/ off switch. I would say we’re pretty much all very vulnerable to developing mental health issues at any time, and trying to stay away from that is a process. Almost like a full time job, but just one that you have to do alongside your regular full time job. I would say mental health, as a concept, is largely elusive. But you can flirt with it through various means, such as taking good care of yourself, being with those you love, and prioritising your desires over others. We can all fall down, we can all lose our mental health, but we can also all stand up. So, in summary, I would say mental health is not a destination; but a way of life.

Mental health has often in the past been a bit of a taboo. People don't like to admit that they struggle with the day to day aspects of their lives. This is particularly difficult for men as they are often told to 'man up'.
For me, mental health is simply being able to deal with how we feel. We all have a mind, we all have thoughts and we all have mental health. There's still such a separation from the way we treat physical and mental health but I see them as very similar. To better our mental health, we need to know and have support to look after it.

Have you or someone you know been directly affected by a mental illness?

T: Yes of course. As I said, I have an ongoing relationship with my mental health, in that I am (mostly) always trying to improve it. If I let this slip, I will feel down. I’m quite susceptible to feeling low. Whether this crosses the threshold for ‘depression’, I’d go “maybe”. But generally speaking, I’m probably effected by a tendency to feel low at least once per week. The biggest issue for me, mentally, is definitely sleep though. I have (self-diagnosed) chronic insomnia. Like right now for example, where I’m answering these questions at 04.38 on a Monday morning. I just can’t sleep for days on end. It really gets to me. I refuse to have time off from work because I think “what’s the point? I’ll only lay on the sofa all day” but I do actually really struggle with not sleeping. Predictably, this can easily lead to low mood – I have no energy, I’m bad tempered and I can take it out on those around me. Low mood loves these things.

N: I have struggled with my mental health over the years and have found that people are a lot more understanding and respectful over the last 10 years. This is mainly due to more of a spotlight on mental health and the encouragement to take it seriously. There is a high rate of suicide in men 18 to 40 because we can be too scared to speak up when we aren't coping.

My Dad suffered with depression shortly before his suicide, but it was a very quick breakdown. He didn't really show any sign of a mental illness before that tragic time. Again with mental illness, I think it's very similar to physical illness. The earlier we can spot it, the earlier we can intervene and treat it, the more change we have of it not getting worse and in a lot of cases fatal.

In hindsight what might you say to yourself, or maybe someone else, struggling with their mental health?

That’s a tough one. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! I’m not sure how receptive I would be on day 3 of no sleep to some gleaming, immaculate version of myself peering back saying “it’ll be okay”. I think I would be too p****d off. What I have learnt through having mental health difficulties is, though, that you can cope with a lot more than you think you can. Put it this way, last year I ran a half marathon. I didn’t sleep for two nights before, I ran it – came in under 2 hours, then drove back to London. I was fine. The lesson here for me here is: just because you don’t think you can do it – doesn’t mean that’s true. So although I wouldn’t use hindsight as my platform, I have used experience to know I am stronger than I think I am.  And I do my best to remember that when I’m up against it. 

What I would say to anyone feeling at a low point is that it is just that. A low does pass and asking for help doesn't make you weak or less of a man. Men have emotions the same as women but have been told it's not okay to show them. I am happy to see that this seems to be changing and know lots of people that have sought help through counselling and meditation.
P: If I could talk to the 19 year old me who was struggling to deal with my Dad's suicide, I would tell him to not be ashamed of how he was feeling. To talk openly, to know that he's not alone and also to know that things can get better.

Why do you think some men struggle to open up and talk about mental health?

Again, it’s a really tough one. I think stigma is the most pertinent answer, but I wonder if there’s a little more to it than that. As you may know, I’m a therapist myself. I work with people who have mental health difficulties every day and I am one of a huge team who all do the same job. Is there stigma here? Well, surprisingly, yes, but not in the way you might suspect. There are two types of stigma: positive and negative. Negative is your classic: “You can’t be depressed! I saw you walking to Tesco the other day” (we don’t see this so much where I work!) and positive – lesser known. More akin to positive discrimination. 
You got given the job because you’re disabled, for example. Not because of who you are. Positive stigma scares me more and is a much bigger barrier than negative stigma for my opening up. It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am, but I fear that people would change the way they relate to me. I like banter, I like taking the p**s and I would hate for people to feel they couldn’t do that because I was depressed. However, I suppose I need to consider whether this is a healthy choice, as there have certainly been times I could have done with a chat - but didn’t.  

Men tend to struggle to open up and talk about mental health due to the blurred definition of what it takes to be a man now. I look at my Grandad who's 93, and the role of a man was far clearer then. Now, a lot of men struggle to find their way and judge themselves for it. Men too struggle to talk with their friends about how they're feeling due to the belief they'd be judged as well, but I think this is slowly changing.

What would you like to see for the future of men's mental health?

 I guess I’d like to see reminders in society that the once socially accepted ‘norm’ of masculinity: beer drinking, tribal tattooed, walking like he’s s**t himself, is on its way out. Call me a millennial but we are now living in a society where women are allowed to be seen as strong, and men are allowed to be seen as vulnerable. More of this please. I blame Disney. Besides, if I keep walking like this I think I’m going to get a hernia. 

I would like to see the stereotypes for any gender are dispelled allowing people to ask for help without feeling social pressure to be a certain way. Work is being done by many great organisations such as Movember and the Samaritans to aid in this needed change.

In the future, I'd like to see more men being vocal about their feelings. There's no weakness in it, in fact it's strength to be able to accept you're struggling and to know that vulnerability is ok. I'd also like to see more support put in place, not just for men, but for everyone. Mental health is still under researched, under funded and it's lacking the support and resources we need right now. With time, and with more people talking, this should start to change.
Thank you all for being so amazing and sharing your mental health experiences and the impact it has had on you personally. It isn't always easy to talk so openly about experiences like this, however I truly believe sharing your stories will help others who may be experiencing something similar.

Like you all, I really hope sometime in the not so distant future the stigma no longer exists and more men 
are able to speak up about how they're feeling.

There is absolutely no shame in suffering from a mental illness or having down days. You must always remember, you're not alone and never be afraid to speak up.



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