For as long as I’ve been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression, I’ve been aware of the stigmas attached to those of us struggling with our mental health. I’ve dealt with people not believing my mental illness was real, I’ve listened to people impart their judgemental opinions on me and I’ve battled through my own internal embarrassment and shame for having this thing that people can’t see or understand. I saw all of those things from my own perspective, as a female, where I didn’t have to experience the added pressure or stigma that I would have received if I’d have been male. I was actually privileged. Privileged to be a gender that is known for expressing emotion, that is perceived to be more vulnerable and is statistically more likely to receive treatment and statistically a lot less likely to die from suicide.
Suicide rates are 3 times higher for men in the UK. In 2015 alone, 6639 people in the UK died by suicide, 4997 of those suicides being men. The highest rate being in men between the ages of 40-44.
This is a crisis and needs addressing on a much larger scale. In a world where men are told to “man-up”, are deemed as not being a “real man” if they cry or express their feelings and are pressured into living up to an overly masculine standard, we need to have our men’s backs. We need to talk about it more, create safer spaces and provide more resources for our men, as well as challenging outdated gender stigmas.
I spoke to four men who speak out about mental health and are passionate about creating awareness, to learn about their thoughts and experiences…
I’m Peter and I’ve had depression and social anxiety for around 10 years now, although only in the last 2 years have I sought out help through a formal diagnosis, therapy and medication. I am a volunteer for the mental health charity campaign ‘Time to Change’ and currently help moderate an online support group on Facebook: ‘Time to Talk UK’, for people with a mental illness and those who care for people with a mental illness.
My blog is all about my life with my mental illness. I focus on sharing how I cope day to day with social anxiety and depression and on giving an honest viewpoint of what these conditions are like to live with.
My name is Rishin and my blog is Mindfully Minded where I talk about my own experiences with mental ill health and when needed have the occasional rant at how the world still views mental illness.
I’m a Buddhist lay priest and I’m currently volunteering for Rethink Mental Illness Black Country, helping with their perinatal support groups. In the past I spent some years as a listening volunteer with Samaritans something that will always stay with me and changed my life.
I have a long list of mental health related problems that the docs and psychiatrists are still trying to untangle after a decade. The latest step is a tentative BPD diagnosis, I say tentative because I’m still waiting on treatment.
My name is Matthew Williams and I started my blog, Love, laughter & Truth in December 2015 during a very difficult time in my life. My marriage ended in 2014, after nearly nine years, having been with my ex-wife for nineteen years. I have two children and it was difficult to adapt to becoming a single parent, along with the many other practical and emotional challenges of divorce.
I have experienced two severe episodes of depression, in 2006 and 2013, and so looking after my mental health was something I was very conscious of after my marriage broke down. I found writing to be very cathartic and it has led to many wonderful opportunities and experiences, culminating with publishing my first book, ‘Something Changed: Stumbling through Divorce, Dating & Depression’ in December 2017. I am now a passionate advocate for mental health, and hope that by sharing my experiences I can encourage more men to feel able to be open about their struggles and to seek help if needed.
I currently don’t blog as much as I should do – however I do Speak – Professionally – sharing my own personal experiences and the insight that I can bring to my audiences.
From OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and being a High Functioning Anxious person – right through to my breakdown – I have learned so much from the mistakes made – but also the things that boosted my recovery and resilience.
Public Speaking has been key to overcoming my own Mental Health challenges – so to hold a platform where I can share that message with people – and the position to help others share their story – is one that feels absolutely amazing!
Are there any challenges that you have had to face with your mental health, that have been specific to being male?
“Yes, I have faced stigmatisation around my mental health from my family due to the expectations around me as a man. Members of my family have previously dismissed, ignored and even sometimes attacked my struggles with depression and anxiety by expecting me to “lighten up”, “stop worrying” and “be more of a man”.
I have also struggled myself with opening up to people (family, friends and medical professionals) because as a man I feel like my mental health is less worthy of concern. I believe this is down to outdated expectations of men and of myself which I faced at school and possibly even further back where it was never taught that boys could show emotion.”
“The usual stereotypes of being a strong man and no talking about my emotions. That caused me a lot of problems after the death of my son, I didn’t grieve properly and everything got twisted up inside.
It was only after I started writing about my experience that I processed what I was feeling.”
“I wouldn’t say that any of the challenges I faced were specific to being male, but I do think that as a man you’re very conscious of feeling somehow less of a man when you are going through mental illness. I was particularly conscious of this during my second depression, when I was a parent and felt unable to be the ‘strong’ father that my children deserved.”
“I guess the only challenge on that front that I thought was male specific was the initial fear of being judged, dismissed or not liked for showing my true self – but I have since learned that affects men and women.
I think that maybe I am different to most men – through my experiences – I can easily share exactly how I feel and how I am – but now I work with helping others it is definitely men that take the most ‘work’ to truly engage them on Mental Health.”
Are there any factors that stand out to you, that you feel make it harder for men to talk about their mental health?
“I feel that as boys we are never taught about our mental health and our emotions. While girls are given poor mental health education as well, I feel there is an extra problem for boys as we are always told to “be strong”, not show emotion and associate emotions with weakness and femininity. This has an impact on boys when they grow up as we never learn about looking after our emotions and bottle them up until too late. By the time we have reached adulthood, it’s more difficult than ever to talk for men.”
“Out dated attitudes of what it means to be male along with the current social stigma that circles mental ill health in general. Either one makes it difficult but put them together and we are fighting on both fronts.”
“Yes, I felt that as a man I needed to be able to be ‘strong’ and to be able to beat it on my own; this meant that it took me a long time to begin taking medication and to take the time off work that I needed to recover. I was also very conscious of the impact that it could have on my career – that I would be considered weak and unable to deal with pressure, when I know that this isn’t the case. In a perverse kind of way I feel that my divorce is almost my defence against these kinds of attitudes – a divorce is considered to be (and is, believe me!) one of the most stressful things that you can go through and yet, although obviously it was very difficult, I was never close to reaching the depths that I had previously.
I also think a lot of men don’t really know how to react or what to say when a friend tells them that they are struggling with their mental health, which can then discourage them from speaking about it.”
“I think the only factor is the conditioning we have around the traditional alpha-male role in Life & Business. When we come away from that – true change absolutely blossoms.
After all – we are our conditioning – and a lot of that happens in the formative years when we are young and looking at our role models at that time. And the world was a lot different back then.”
Do you feel there is a stigma attached to male mental health and why do you feel it exists?
“Yes, I feel there is still stigma around all mental health but particularly around male mental health. I think it exists because society still puts men and women into very old fashioned and distinct categories, with men seen as strong physically and not expected to face weakness, as emotions are for women. I think a lot of why this still exists is because society is often too narrow minded towards mental health as well as we don’t consider the future effects we have when parenting and teaching children. If anyone need wonder whether stigma still exists around male mental health consider the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK.”
“Yes there is a lot of stigma attached to male mental ill health. Everything from the idea of manning up to the notion that needing to talk is a feminine attribute and so is automatically weak all creates stigma when it comes to men’s mental health.
We are on the edge of change. Currently we are straddling a line between old and new where old school attitudes are slowly being phased out.
This makes people lash out because for many of us change is hard, we see people questioning our values and attitudes and that strikes a very personal note.
It becomes about us as an individual or our parents, how many times do we hear someone say “well my parents did it that way with me and I turned out OK”?
By challenging their attitudes you are challenging their whole upbringing, their very life and sense of who they are. This is a huge deal.
We aren’t just fighting outdated and harmful ideas we are fighting generations that deemed such ideas to be the done thing.”
“Yes I do. There is still a sense that men should be able to just pull themselves together and ‘snap out of it’. There is also the ‘what has he got to be depressed about?’ attitude that totally misunderstands the nature of what is a serious and debilitating illness, not a choice.”
“Following my previous answer – when we come away from our conditioning – I believe that stigma in the current day is becoming less and less male specific – and more situation specific – ie the workplace etc.”
What do you think would make it easier for men to get treatment for their mental health?
“I think we as a society need to completely change how we treat boys and girls right from being born to being at school. Boys and girls should both be taught equally that their mental health is important and that it is ok to cry, have emotions and not feel mentally well.
Schools need to put mental health on the curriculum proper and have teachers who are mental health first aid trained and know how to look for signs that children are struggling mentally and know how to support them. This will let kids, both boys and girls, understand that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of and help them to get treatment when they need it.
As for adults, I would say we need more campaigns, similar to the ones run by CALM (Project 84 in particular was brilliant) and Time to Change that highlight the problems with men’s mental health and how much of an issue not being able to speak out is for men. Only by having projects like these and having a government that backs mental health treatment fully can we get parity for mental health with physical and get both men and women the support they deserve.”
“In the UK I’d have to say access to services as that the number one for everyone.
Also, we have to start talking we need to talk about our pain, our loss, and our day to day life.
However, to do that we need people who are willing and able to listen.
I know this is a perfect scenario. Not everyone has someone to talk to but it is the acceptance of people who open up to you that we should foster, whoever those people might be.
If someone chooses to talk to you, don’t brush them aside, don’t ignore what they are saying. At that moment you are being given the privileged of entering into someone’s life, you are getting a glimpse at their pain.
Treat that moment with respect.”
“I think that the Time To Change ‘Be In Your Mate’s Corner’ campaign is an excellent idea, encouraging men to look out for their friends and check that they are ok. Men often won’t take the first step to admit they need help so encouraging friends in this way is a really positive thing. I think the work that high profile men such as Prince Harry and Frank Bruno are doing to raise awareness and show that struggles with mental health can affect anyone, will also help more men to feel able to seek treatment. However, there must be much greater investment in mental health support services; there is a lot of great work happening to encourage men to seek help but that help must be available, particularly accessible counselling services.”
“I believe that great work is being done to make treatment easier and more accessible – but as with everything – true change begins within ourselves – so the work that is being done on engaging people on Mental Health – is really changing things.”
“I think that a lot of excellent work is taking place and attitudes are definitely changing but there is still a long way to go. I feel very privileged to be in a position to be able to use my own experiences to be able to contribute to the efforts to raise awareness and fight stigma. I would also like to say that the response that I have had to speaking out has been overwhelmingly positive. It can be scary to be open about mental health but it can change life for the better in so many ways. It certainly has mine.”