Andy, March 12, 2018

Andy: Just because I'm a man, doesn't mean I'm immune to mental health problems

Just because I'm a man, doesn't mean I'm immune to mental health.

The stigma that goes with men and mental health is patronising. People think of mental health in a negative way already, without the labelling of self-harm being 'attention seeking', depression as 'you're not depressed, grow up', loneliness as 'stop being quiet, there's nothing wrong', or anxiety as 'stop stressing, take a chill pill'.

I have learned that there are many reasons why people suffer with each one of those mental health problems. As each day is different, each feeling is different - there are millions of ways day-to-day living impacts our lives. Some people may feel a little worse than others and not know how to cope, while others can pull through at the drop of a hat. No one really knows what's going through people's minds; what they've gone through, or what they are currently going through!

The way that mental health is currently being perceived, means men get overlooked, which makes it harder for men to talk. That’s certainly what it’s felt like in my position. The way some people make assumptions and distance themselves, from someone who is suffering with mental health problems, often makes the whole matter worse. Especially if the person you thought you could talk to is the one turning their back. My attempts to talk to friends and loved ones never worked. I never knew how to explain what was wrong or how I felt because everything just seemed to happen all at once. 

From being a young teenager, going through high school into college and even recently into my young adulthood, I've battled with mental health problems and self-harm. Dealing with a break up of my own, my parents’ divorce, abusive behaviour, being bullied and the stress of exams, it's fair to say I was overwhelmed. I was finding myself at loose ends, waking up alone and being uninvited to social occasions with "friends", just to find out people have spoken negatively about me behind my back.

I was constantly worrying and anxious about when these feelings and negative thoughts would end. It was then when I thought the only cure that could put things right was self-harm. Loneliness and anxiety became the norm. Being on edge, not being able to sleep or eat made me wonder if I was able to carry on... 

Being depressed isn't something that just happens straight away - I didn't go to sleep one day happy and wake up the next sad. In my case, it was trapped feelings that were building for months, even years. Unable to talk to people, as talking pushed people away, I managed to brace a smile and continue as if things were fine.

I had a rough start to my adulthood, but I have made progress. In simple terms, going through hell and back gave me the experience and know how to deal with my emotions and what to do when I have a 'surge' of overwhelming feelings taking over - especially when I feel alone.

Having the confidence to talk is something I'm still working on, simply because I am ashamed of my past. As mental health is a part of everyone's life, no one should feel uncomfortable to talk about how they feel and the reasons why. Talking is the main point of contact for people, we do it every day! If words can hurt and create disruptions, they can equally create comfort, peace of mind and help one another to pull through.

Talking about a person’s experience may help someone else who hasn't quite got the courage to yet. Whether that was someone who chose to ignore you when you were the one who needed help, or someone you're close to or friends with, any gender or religion.

If you know how to help, and the opportunity is there, then what's stopping you?

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.