September 13, 2017

a photo of the blogger, Ben.

As a man with mental health problems myself, when the topic of men’s mental health comes up I often feel guilty. There are so many women suffering not just from mental health problems but also from a wide range of societal problems that can make it harder to cope with them. Who are we as men to complain about the stigma we face? But the more I think about it the more I realise that the guilt I feel is only a reflection of the problem as a whole - that we struggle to face up to the reality of our so called “weaknesses”. 
The first symptoms of my mental health developed around the age of twelve when after being singled out and bullied by even my closest friends, I developed long term depression and social anxiety that I have to this day. Almost every night through my teenage years I thought about killing myself but I didn’t talk to anyone about it until I was seventeen. I stayed silent for five years - not out of fear of a bad reaction, but more so because I didn’t want to appear weak. 
At the age of eighteen I went to university and came across mental health charities like YoungMinds who I have volunteered with for the last four years. Through this time I’ve used my history of mental health to help others but I struggled to talk about or face up to the mental health problems I was experiencing. I feel comfortable talking to MPs and hundreds of people about my mental health experience but I was too scared to admit to my GP or my university’s student support about how much I was struggling. By the time I did, I had already left university without a full degree. In this way, mental health stigma made me my own worst enemy.
Up until the last fifty years or so, Britain was a country that was in major wars often, with a far bigger military than the one we see today. As the role of the woman was to stay at home and look after the children, men were expected to be prepared to fight for their country. There wasn’t time for talking about our feelings amongst each other and instead we followed the mantra of “keep calm and carry on”.  
Society has changed massively in the years since World War II but this attitude still remains. To this day, men are less likely to go their GP if they have a health problem than women and this appears to be the same in mental health. More women than men are diagnosed with mental health conditions yet around 75% of suicides in the UK are by men. This is likely in part because men don’t feel as comfortable talking to others about their feelings- or at least that’s certainly been true for me.
Some people say when men try to tell our male friends about our problems, we get told to “man up” but in my experience that hasn’t generally been the case. For me when I’ve told men I know well about my mental health the reaction I get far more often is an awkward silence. To me, this reaction isn’t so much rejecting me because of my mental health but much more so because we don’t know what to say. Because we rarely talk about our struggles within ourselves, we don’t know how to ask “How are you feeling?”, “Is there anything I can do to help you” or feeling comfortable sharing our own experiences.
To take the time to listen and say a few supportive words is all it takes to be there for your mates and that can make all the difference to a person like me. 

Read more personal stories >

Share your story

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.