The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) believes that 76% of people in the UK who suffer with a mental illness will never seek help. On that basis, if 1 in 4 of the 32 million men in this country are suffering with a mental health condition, and 76% of those do not seek support, we have approximately 6,080,000 men in this country who need support right this second, but haven’t told anyone how they feel. To sit back and think about that for second is almost incomprehensible. Why are so many suffering in silence?
Whilst it’s shocking to hear, I can understand those figures as I was one of them. I didn’t seek support until quite a serious incident happened and I had no choice. Until that point, I’d avoid being honest with anyone and everyone. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt like everyone would laugh at me. I thought no one would understand. Frankly even I didn’t really understand what was going on, so how could I expect to be taken seriously? Unfortunately, that seems to be a very common way of thinking for men who are struggling emotionally.
In my opinion a lot of this comes down to how we’re all taught, not just at school, but also by the media. To learn more about depression, it’s worth spending some time to watch this video. This is the best animation I’ve found online that describes the way the illness makes you feel. One of the biggest worries when you are struggling is that other people won’t understand. By watching this video, it may help you tell others about it.
When I was at my worst, I didn’t want to tell anyone. Even when someone asked, my reply was always ready ‘Yeah, I’m fine!’ With a big smile on my face. Unfortunately, us men are all brought up in similar ways. 'Male pride', amongst other things, can be a huge block in your way to seek support. The Mental Health Foundation have launched a powerful campaign around the words ‘I’m fine’ recently following their findings which show only 1 in 5 people who say ‘I’m fine’ actually mean it. Check it out here.
In this article are 5 things I wish those close to me knew when I was at my worst. Everyone is different of course, but there is a lot of simple advice that can have a huge impact on a man's life, and I hope that by reading the below it may help you to help someone close to you.
- Treat the person normally – Quite often, the low self-esteem associated with mental illness can leave you feeling like a burden to anyone you do open up to. By acting differently around them and being obviously concerned, it could have a negative effect. For example, I don’t text my colleague every morning saying ‘How are you feeling this morning?’ So why did people used to do that with me when I was struggling with my depression? Because they cared, that’s why. But eventually I knew those texts were coming in advance, and I’d have an answer lined up similar to ‘yeah, much better today thanks,’ just so they’d stop coming through. I wanted to feel normal, not like a ‘special case’, even though I knew I wasn’t myself. The more you can keep the conversation and relationship as ‘normal’ as it’s ever been, the better.
- Be patient. I was up and down for quite some time. Even if you’ve had a really good day with someone who is openly struggling, the next day they may feel completely differently again. Depression can be one step forwards and two steps backwards, no matter how far along the recovery process you are. I remember going out for the evening with some friends when I felt particularly down. I felt like I’d really achieved something and I may be on the way to good things by finding the courage to go out and have some fun. One of my friends texted me the next day saying he wanted to book a weekend away. I said no as I didn’t feel quite up to it yet, and I got a barrage of ‘banter’ telling me I should be fine now, I’d managed the night before so what is different with a weekend away, etc. It made me feel awful. Just because someone may have a good day does not mean they are ‘cured’. It doesn’t work like that. Be patient and understanding. If the person suffering doesn’t feel quite up to a situation, accept it and be there for them.
- Relate to them as much as possible. Sometimes there just isn’t a solution, so don’t feel pressured to find one. Just talking on their level and trying to relate to them is enough a lot of the time. You won’t understand exactly how they feel, but by talking about your own emotions, the person will learn that you’re just as ‘normal and human’ as you are. This was a hard one for me to get my head around as my first thought whenever someone comes to me with a problem is ‘right, let’s work out a way to fix it’. Unfortunately, that approach does not work with depression. Depression is something you need to work through, not get over. By showing that you can relate to how they feel, or that you are at least open to trying to understand, is a huge step in the right direction to make the person who is struggling feel a little more confident about opening up. When I felt low and someone approached me with a bit of an understanding, or at least an openness to talk about their emotions, it would make me feel so much more confident in speaking about myself.
- It could just be the depression talking. I used to find that I’d snap at my family for no reason. It was frustration on my part. I don’t know why I did it. I couldn’t think clearly. What I thought felt real, but it wasn’t reflective of the situation, or justified on my part. It wasn’t me. It was the depression talking. I remember the irritability very well. I’d feel down, not know why, and it would anger me. I’d get frustrated with myself as I didn’t know why I felt so low, and I’d then take it out on my family by saying something I didn’t mean. That would then make me feel even worse about myself for saying something I didn’t mean, and so the cycle would continue. If someone says something to you that seems out of character, it’s probably because it is, and they don’t actually mean it. Bear with them.
Supporting someone who is struggling with depression isn’t easy, but it’s appreciated more than you will know. It’s important to be open about our own experiences if we expect someone to be open with us, and by all sharing that same open approach we can continue to break down the stigma one person at a time.