Mental Health. Men’s mental health. There you go, it’s out there. So why do so many men suffer in silence? Moving in the circles of sexual advice that I choose to frequent on social media, there is much talk about the inequalities that women face, but little about the inequalities facing men.
The statistics make for stark reading, an article on Men’s Health Forum reports that:
- Men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women in the Government’s national well-being survey;
- Men are nearly 50% more likely than women to be detained and treated compulsorily as a psychiatric inpatient;
- Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol or drug dependent;
And that’s just 3 selected indicators. Read the article, the list goes on and on and on, on indicators of mental wellbeing, men are leagues behind females.
But what’s to blame?
Historical societal structure has favoured men in leadership, rights and careers, which has led to the stereotypical man – emotionally strong, independent, a leader. Phrases that are common parlance to mean strength or brave have male stamped all over them – “man up”, “grow some balls” or even simply “be a man”.
Then think about mental health. Phrases like “he’s mental”, “doing his nut”, and the expectations put on boys to not cry, it’s all negative stuff.
Put together the male stereotype of being strong and the negative connotations of mental health and it’s hardly a surprise that men don’t want to appear “weak” by showing their mental fragility.
So it seems to me that the expectations that men put on themselves are way behind in the gender equality stakes. The majority of men would seek professional help in the event of a physical illness, but less than 1 in 5 would seek help for a low mood or anxiety.
They say that in any given year, 1 in 4 people will suffer some form of mental health illness; these are not small figures, and I for one would love to see the stigma surrounding mental health illness disappear.
Mental Health is one of the key areas that Movember want to raise awareness of, so to do my bit, I’ve written another article on how do I know if my mental wellness is low, and what can I do about it? And, right here, I’m sharing my story.
My mental health
It’s difficult to pinpoint when my mental health issues started. I first asked for help as a fresher in university, but looking back, I think the writing was on the wall way before then.
I’m the eldest of several children, born in the late seventies meaning my formative years were in the eighties. I have very few memories before the age of eight. Actually, it’s probably safe to say that I have zero memories before the age of eight; anything I remember from before then is in the form of a polaroid snap – so I know I had a bike for my 6th birthday, but only because there’s photographic evidence – I have no recollection of it at all.
What this means I don’t know; maybe my childhood was so traumatic I’ve chosen to block it out, but I really don’t think that is the case. My parents were typical of the eighties – mum stayed at home and dad worked every daylight hour earning next to nothing, we lived in a council house and umm yeah I don’t remember much else.
Moving on into my tween years, I was pretty much a loner, I had my head buried in a book most of the time. The village I lived in was expanding, and there were plenty of kids moving in, only they all went to the private school on the edge of town. There were 8 kids in my year at school, and none of them lived in the council estate I lived in. So I guess I just grew up thinking that I was all I ever needed.
In my teen years I made friends, but I had a tendency to keep them at arm’s length – some of them are still my friends today, but I see them very rarely. I went out with them occasionally, but y’know, after a few no-shows, or a few declined invitations, they stopped inviting me. I suppose this is when I learned that I didn’t really need any friends.
In my mid-teens I learned that my parents were largely hating each other, and that they were using me to look after my siblings whilst they alternately went and saw other people behind each other’s back. This is when I learned that I can only really trust myself.
At uni I had counselling, and eventually ended up on SSRIs, they helped me so much. I turned my life around, from the platform they gave me I developed new hobbies, new friends, girlfriends. It was only then that I realised that previously I was depressed. I didn’t know I was depressed, and it was only the listening ear of the doctor that directed me to talking therapy and then eventually to the pills.
This was amazing, I was so happy, I had an incredibly fulfilling life, did loads of stuff and eventually met the woman who is now my wife. After 18 months on the tablets, I managed to recover and leave the pills behind.
All was well until a massive event in my life rocketed the depression to cloud my every day. And to be honest, I’ve been suffering ever since. I lost a year of my life somewhere along the line, and ever since I seem to keep bouncing from semi-crisis to semi-crisis. I’m been on tablets, off tablets, this tablet that tablet, I’ve had numerous types of talking therapy.
Right now I’ve just come off of fluoxetine, about 3 months ago now, and I don’t feel especially depressed, my anxiety levels though are through the roof. To the extent that some days I just can’t face the possibility of meeting other people.
The thing is though, as a parent, I can’t just stay at home, I have to function for my children, and for my wife. Some days are so tough and I have been known to call in work sick because I just want to hide indoors. I’ went to the doctor again, and now I’m on a new type of tablet that will hopefully let me continue to work.
I’m a bit of a paradox really, in my professional career I lap up stress and kick it in the face, but in my personal life I often seem unable to cope. My self-care has taken a back seat over most of the last 10 years, and whilst I do my best to raise the children to be happy balanced individuals, I cannot say the same for myself. Some days I think of my lack of self-care as a type of self-harm, or an addiction. I cannot control these negative behaviours and negative thoughts, they control me, and to some extent they make me fleetingly happy, but fundamentally they fuel my anxiety.
Taking tablets is an entirely personal decision, and my plight is very mundane and run-of-the mill compared to many, but without those tablets I really don’t know how I would have got to where I am. I also don’t know what I would be without the wife and children; they make me the luckiest man alive.
Suffer from mental health illness? Join the debate – I invite you to share your story