“Sickness can surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go,” proclaimed rock behemoths The Who. Listening to this as a young man empowered me to acknowledge and embrace my own mental health demons, which are many. The reason I wanted to blog about this difficult subject (hard for me to write about and hard for you to read) is because it’s so important to talk about. Suicide is the leading killer amongst UK men under 50! This equates to a man taking his own life every 2 hours.
I’ve experienced poor mental health for my whole life, but it was never acknowledged. “Oh, that’s just his way,” they’d say, or “just ignore him, he’s a bit funny,” or by simply being ignored. I was discouraged from pursuing all my dreams as I simply had to learn my place. On researching my family history I was shocked to find that four male relatives, the oldest of whom was born in 1920, had taken their own lives. I believe this was largely down to ignorance – were they to have had an injury such as a broken leg, they would be treated, given appropriate care and sent home with a clear plan of ongoing treatment and recovery. Had they been given the opportunity to discuss their issues or had the wider family been educated, more prevention work could have been in place.
I am very lucky in that I have a very supportive, immediate family who love and support me unconditionally. My partner has a great understanding of the causes and effects of mental health problems, and we have been open from the start with our children so they have an understanding and empathy with others. My oldest daughter is quite proud of challenging negativity surrounding about it and encourages my mental health to make not break me. My children have embraced my situation – my middle daughter says I should be lucky to have a brain made from rainbows! They are able to understand it in others, and when things go wrong we discuss why and how we put it right.
I have to accept that this is part of what makes me and is part of who I am. I have learned various coping strategies and am able to recognise the trigger warnings that point to a bad point. (I call it falling in the black bramble bush – if you fall into a sharp, dark place, the worst thing to do is struggle. You stay still whilst someone gently sets you free back into the light.) I am rather proud of this as some practitioners have taken on the analogy. Sometimes every day is such a struggle that few who know me would believe it.
I have been known to break my day down to getting through the next 30 seconds!
Sometimes I have to take medication to assist me, usually for between 6 – 18 months. The problem with that is getting the balance right which is largely trial and error. An unfortunate knock on can be the side effects: a recent roller coaster ride of tablets has led to me reacting emotionally rather than rationally – I am sure some of my friends and colleagues have received an email or call from me recently and thought “what the hell is he on!?”
The reason for sharing this with you is not to gain sympathy, merely to try to highlight a common issue that statistically will affect a large proportion of people. I have almost learned to live with my problems with the help of my family; I deal with suffering from poor mental health by using various strategies and humour, I have enough anecdotes from the last 30 years to fill a book and we often make others laugh with tales of eating out, being in public places or episodes of inappropriate behaviour but that’s just how I cope.
Men’s relationship with mental health is a challenging one. Asking for help is hard and as a man who feels an obligation to his family you want or perhaps need to be seen as the lynchpin. Not only have I been afraid to seek help because I assumed I would be labelled and ostracised, but I had been ignoring ‘my injuries’ and I was getting worse because I wasn’t treating them. Imagine going to the doctors at 45 after trying to walk round with a broken leg for most of your life, not to mention the complications caused by it!
My name is Shaun and I suffer from poor mental health!