October 28, 2016

"We'll get through this together."

"Well, now you're not alone. We'll get through this together."

These were the first words my dad said to me after I completely broke down and confessed all of my darkest thoughts about myself and explained the true extent of my mental illness. He didn't run, he didn't scream and shout or get angry, he didn't question me. It felt like an out-of-body experience, like I was watching myself tell him about a part of my life that had plagued me for so many years.

I appreciate how lucky I am in having the father that I've got. He's sensitive, kind, patient, caring and understanding. He does his best to sympathise with my mental health problems and comforts and consoles me when my worries are overwhelming. He has always provided me with a safe environment to express my emotions, to cry without judgement and to be myself. I am so fortunate that I've grown up in a household that is comfortable talking about feelings, fears and problems.

However, with regards to mental health, we only spoke about it when it was clear that I was struggling with mental illness myself. From my diagnosis of OCD and depression when I was 15, the conversation only grew. In fact, after a phone call that I've just had with my dad, I discovered that not only was he officially diagnosed with depression after my parents split up but he was prescribed anti-depressants. But when he had only taken a few he felt suicidal and after speaking with his mum he stopped taking them. He told me that talking with good friends and family members, and having to look after me and be a responsible parent, kept him grounded and gradually helped him see through the fog of depression.

In a poll conducted by Time To Change, statistics show that half of teenage boys (49%) aged 16–18 feel uncomfortable talking to their dads about mental health issues. That's a staggering figure when you consider that if we were talking about physical health, the number would almost certainly be far lower. The idea that guys should try and 'man up' or 'put on a brave face' when dealing with mental health problems is so damaging. The stigma only grows and spreads silence, shame and fear. Our fathers are the people we look to when growing up and learning how to behave, learning what is right and wrong. The time has come that talking about mental illness is something that you shouldn't be ashamed of. It shouldn't hide in the shadows and remain a taboo topic.

If you are a father reading this and you've been brought up to believe that talking about your emotions or your mental health is wrong, I urge you to take a leap of faith and speak out. Your son will learn from you, and being a positive mental health role model will only stand them in good stead for later life. You can be the change that is so desperately needed to help future generations of men to feel confident enough to open up about their experience with mental illness. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. You, yes you reading this right now, you can be part of the generation that starts changing this figure.

Speak up, listen to your son, educate yourself about mental illness. Don't be afraid of feeling vulnerable or scared. There is nothing wrong with crying. Gone are the days where men are emotionless, stoic pillars of society. You have feelings that are just as valid as anyone else's. You can create a society where young men feel able to talk about mental illness.

You can be the change.

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