Young children have no fear of judgement. They cry when they are sad, they yell when they are angry, they (if asked) will tell you their fears and emotions. Children see no shame in these actions, so why as adults do we mask it all? What happens to us along the way that makes us believe that our raw emotions are invalid, a burden, an embarrassment. When does this change happen? Is it when parents tell their sons to ‘man up’ that ‘big boys don’t cry.’ Or when mums and dads turn to their daughters and explain that ‘you’re a big girl now, you need to be brave.’ Do these innocent comments lead us to believe that our emotions, especially sadness and anger, are to be kept behind closed doors? That we are meant to put on a front and pretend to be fine so we are accepted in society?
We are fully aware that there is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding mental health, in particular, men’s mental health. I’m going to throw a few statistics your way:
77% of men polled have suffered with anxiety/depression/ bipolar
40% of men polled won’t talk about their mental health
Reasons why they won’t talk about their mental health include:
Not wanting to be a burden: 36%
Not wanting to appear weak: 16%
I’m too embarrassed: 29%
So does this all boil down to the pressure we put on young boys and men to be strong and unemotional. We tell them that they aren’t brave if they cry or open up in any way, we brush off any sign of vulnerability, poking fun at them. Is this why 29% of women are likely to seek help as opposed to only 17% of men?
Many people still view mental illness as a sign of weakness which of course makes the thought of seeking help even more daunting. I think a lot of individuals who are experiencing a form of mental health worries (whether that’s anxiety, depression, bipolar, eating disorders or something else) believe that they will come across as weak when they open up about these struggles. In my opinion, it’s one of the bravest things you can do. The truth is, all of us will need the support of another at some point in our lives regardless of gender. Both men and women suffer in equal amounts, we just need to wake up and realise this!
You may feel as if you’ve lost control, that your life is crashing down around you and as much as you try, you just can’t find your feet. Opening up and finding help is a way you can regain the control that you may feel is lost and taking that first step should never be seen as a weakness, instead, it shows pure strength and bravery. I will forever be inspired by people that recognise they need help and then do everything they can to make it happen, even if it does take support from others.
We can all do our bit to help rid the stigma that’s suffocating mental health and in turn, help those individuals who are too scared or too embarrassed to seek support. We need to stop viewing mental health illnesses as something to fear, stop branding people as ‘crazy’ or ‘wack jobs’, stop telling children and young adults to swallow their emotions so they grow up to be just like us; afraid to speak out about struggles, terrified of judgement and rejection, scared of disapproving glances and hidden whispers.
Let’s learn how to be shameless, let’s get back our vulnerability, let’s pull together and encourage each other to reach out. It won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable and it will, at times, feel as if your world is falling apart. But surely it won’t be anywhere near as hard as dealing with those emotions alone?
A number of us will deal with a mental health problem this year and years to follow. If you are concerned about a loved one, a friend, someone you go to school with or someone you work with and you’re unsure how to approach it then here’s a few things you can do:
- Just ask them how they are. Yes, it really is that simple. maybe wait until you’re somewhere quiet and safe then just have a normal conversation.
- Listen to them, without judgement, without interrupting. Just be there.
- Be yourself, talk normally and let them know that they have your full attention and support. Put your phone down, don’t get distracted.
- Keep in mind that everyone is different and while some things may get you out of a bad place, it might not have the same effect on others so don’t get mad if they don’t fancy hitting the gym or dancing all night long.
- Be slow and be patient, you might be the first person that they’ve ever opened up to. Don’t rush them into committing to something. It takes time and they might not want to tell you everything straight away.
Alternatively, if you are the one who is having a tough time at the moment and you’re not sure what to do, that’s okay, you are not alone. You are fully capable of reaching out and finding that help you need. Find someone that you trust, that you can speak to with ease, don’t rush, If talking seems like too much then you can email or write a letter. whether you know me in person or not, I am always available to talk to.
Remember, you are not weak for wanting help, you are not a burden, you do not need to ‘get over it’ or ‘deal with it’. Every thing you are feeling is valid and I believe you can do this!