Last week, I lost a friend and colleague to suicide. It’s not my story to tell. But the wider story is one that needs to be told.
Rewind a few years and mental health wasn’t something many people understood. It was either a taboo – something to be kept hush hush. Or it conjured images of ‘crazy people’ hearing voices and doing strange things and being sectioned. Or it wasn’t real – “you’re just feeling a bit down”.
But now, thanks to many awareness campaigns, people opening up about their experiences, and other people generally being less knobish, mental health and mental illnesses are something that can be talked about.
I myself spent years keeping things hush hush, going through periods of depression and mania, and struggling with anxiety disorder but was eventually forced to open up when I had a major breakdown and it began affecting my business (and therefore my income and ability to pay my mortgage and keep my child fed).
For me, I’ve found medication to be a positive first step towards stabalising my moods and behaviour and being able to live my life. But more importantly it has enabled me to understand the issues with a clear mind and vocalise things.
Now apologies for the sweeping generalisation, but why don’t men do the same?
Men account for almost three quarters of suicides in the UK, so whilst I might be generalising slightly in saying that men don’t ‘open up’ and talk about things, a 75% majority statistic kinda speaks for itself, no?
You’ll probably have seen, or at least heard about the Gillette campaign ‘The Best A Man Can Be’. Personally I wasn’t at all offended but then not being the target market I guess I can’t comment. For me though, the message to be the best you can isn’t particularly harmful and in fact in no way appears to be an attack on anyone’s masculinity. Just my opinion. But the backlash the advert received only serves to reinforce this stale idea of what men should be or not be, and how they should act or not act.
And I think that’s more of an attack.
Anxiety disorder isn’t feeling a bit nervous.
Depression isn’t feeling sad.
Bipolar disorder isn’t having mood swings.
And OCD isn’t wanting a clean house.
Everyone has good and bad days, feels nervous sometimes, and has a cute little obsession. But this is completely different.
There are many mental health conditions and mental illness with complex causes and symptoms. And we have no idea what people are suffering with and why. And do you know what? Sometimes there isn’t a reason, it’s just an illness, like having a cold. Which is why phrases like “what have they got to be depressed about?”, “we all get anxious?” or “you’re mental” (said during an actual mental episode) are not at all helpful.
Next time you’re thinking of catching up with a friend but don’t know if you can be bothered, Do bother. Next time someone opens up to you, Take them seriously. Next time you are even a tiny bit worried about someone, Check on them. Especially the men, because it’s pretty evident that they are unlikely to bring it up first.
Let’s keep the conversation going!