Guest post written by Peter Shaw.
As a man, I am acutely aware of the problems surrounding speaking out and talking to others about mental health. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 speaks volumes. Clearly, something is convincing men that the only way out is suicide. This needs to be tackled and I feel the best way is by getting people in society as a whole to talk about mental health more openly and honestly.
Since volunteering with charity Time to Change, starting therapy and blogging about my mental health; I have begun to reflect more on being a man and having a mental illness and how in the past stigmatisation has prevented me from getting support and help. I have also started to take more notice of how it can still prevent me now from speaking out. It’s been expected that as a man, I would be strong, stoic and not talk about my feelings; I vividly remember my dad (despite being quite progressive and open around many issues) shying away from talking about his depression and anxiety. It’s only now I can look back on how much of my social anxiety is similar to his, in isolating myself from people, avoiding social situations and being extremely nervous and afraid around people, particularly in authority.
But my dad never spoke openly about these issues and even when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer he hid away his pain and tears from me and my family. I still remember him not wanting the nurses at the palliative care unit to look at him when he was crying and how ashamed he felt to have to rely on them for help. This makes me upset and makes me often wonder how much better he could have felt emotionally and mentally if only he had seen examples of men talking about their feelings, he could have felt better at accepting help and talking about his emotions. Which is why I don’t want other generations to go through that, and don’t particularly want to go through it myself. No person; whether male, female or transitioning, should be made to feel like they can’t talk about their mental health, as it is as normal as talking about physical health and a mental illness can affect anyone.
What would I say though to encourage others to speak out? After all I still struggle many days to cope with low mood and depression, and when facing new situations I still feel anxious. On top of that, everyone is different and experiences often vary on mental illness. What I can say though is that speaking out and talking about my mental health has allowed me to understand my coping techniques, what works for me and has given me assurance that even when things get rough, there are people out there who understand me, can help me and there are techniques and coping strategies I can employ to help me get through the rough times.
I have had recent experiences of this, from when I’ve felt really anxious about a situation. I get the usual feelings of sickness, my mind going round and round with theories on how the situation will go terribly and feeling like I can’t concentrate on anything but the situation. However, sharing how I feel in a safe space, either online to a friend from volunteering or in a mental health group I’m a member of online, has allowed me to find support from others who understand my feelings, make me feel recognised and understood and give me tips on how to cope better with rough days.
Thanks to my therapy, I now make a point of writing down how I feel when I’m anxious or depressed and I have also recently taken to doing calming exercises taken from mindfulness such as deep breathing and grounding techniques where you focus on something in the present and try to take your mind away from thinking you can’t cope. These all help, but it wouldn’t have been possible for me to employ these techniques without coming across them from friends and support groups. Which in turn wouldn’t have been possible without speaking out and talking about my mental health.
Society should encourage everyone to do this, and it should encourage people to see their mental health as worthy of the same treatment that their physical health is. So I urge anyone feeling depressed, anxious or worried about their mental health, talk to someone and get support for how you are feeling. Both you and your brain are worthy of the support.