I hadn’t experienced mental health problems until about three years ago. I was having some family issues, and I had no one to blame but myself, so I felt alone and ashamed - that’s when I started to self-harm.
Mental health problems can affect anyone, but my misconceptions and fear of judgment prevented me from speaking out for a long time. As a 37-year-old man, I was embarrassed that I was experiencing something which I’d presumed only happened to teenage girls. I worried if I told my mates what I was going through they’d think I was weak, so I didn’t say anything. My wife was the one who got the ball rolling and found me some support.
She told me I should join a support group for people who were self-harming. Admittedly, I didn’t want to go at first. I thought I’d turn up and be the only man in the group, but to my surprise, it was the complete opposite – most of the members were men. That’s when I realised I wasn’t alone. Other men my age were going through stuff like this too, they just weren’t talking about it.
For me, the turning point was speaking to other men in the group who shared similar experiences - going on walks together, talking about anything, everything, or nothing – simply supporting one another. Before I met these guys, I didn’t really know much about mental health. There’s this stereotype that if you have a mental health problem you’re probably unemployed, but I met men who had good jobs, and they were struggling.
Once I started talking, I was shocked by how many people told me they had a mental health problem too. I recently bumped into someone I used to play rugby with. We’ve known each other for years, but we’ve never spoken about our mental health before. We exchanged stories for the first time, and it just goes to show you can know someone well, but never know what they’re going through unless you ask.
When I finally started talking to my mates about what I’d been through, they asked ‘why didn’t you say something?’, ‘why didn’t you call?’, ‘you know I’d have been there’ – but I didn’t know that. I didn’t know who would be there for me if I told them what I was going through, and I was embarrassed.
I’ll hold my hands up and say I thought, as a man, speaking about my mental health was a ‘girly’ thing to do. You see women going out for a drink and talking about their feelings, it isn’t seen as a very ‘manly’ thing to do. A few years ago, I’d have probably told a mate to ‘man up’ if they were upset, and wouldn’t have understood why someone with depression couldn’t just ‘get on with it’ – until it happened to me. It hit me like a brick wall. I couldn’t just ‘man up’ or ‘get on with it’, I needed to speak to someone.
If you’re struggling, opening up to a mate isn’t easy – especially for some men.
If someone had reached out to me back then, I might have realised it was OK to talk about how I was feeling sooner.
If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, or you know they’re going through something, reach out. Pick up the phone, ask how they’re doing, and see if they want to hang out. Invite them to watch a game or go fishing. It’s when you’re doing things like that you can ask those little questions which might help them get things off their chest.
While we’re in lockdown, it’s so important to check in with your mates. I’ve been lucky. I have my family and my colleagues who I can talk to – but some men don’t have that, and it must be really tough. Text your mates and organise a phone call. If they try to move things around or say ‘somethings come up’, ask if they’re OK, and remind them you’re always there if they want to chat later.
If a mate asks ‘how you are?’, try to be honest if you feel down or something’s on your mind. It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t need to do what I did and put on a brave face or hide through bravado. The first time you talk about it, it can be tough, but the more you talk about it, and the more advice and perspective you get, the more it helps – and it gets easier.
I used to hide my scars and my feelings – but I’m not embarrassed anymore. I’m proud that in sharing my story, I’ve been able to help others. I’m a mental health first aider at work now, and I’ve spoken to so many men who didn’t want to hold their hands up and say ‘I need help’ until they realised they weren’t alone. We’re all different, but talking to your mates can make such a difference, so reach out, ask twice, and let them know you’re there.