Hello there, Wendy has been hella busy lately and has had to take a step back from doing mental health mondays for a little bit. However, reader (yes…you!), please do not be alarmed as your favourite educational-supportive-friendly neighbourhood mental health column lives on! Today’s post shall be a guest post from me (me in this case being the lovely Wendy’s boyfriend -turned-glamorous assistant Jay :-D) and I’m going to talk about the way in which mental health issues can affect men in particular. It’s interesting to note that whilst mental illness has been typically deemed an affliction of the female gender that actually suicide is higher in men and accounts for the largest proportion of deaths in men under 45. So clearly something isn’t adding up here, I’m going to write a bit about my own personal struggles with mental health, a bit about the way in which the gender dynamics of mental illness intersects with class and social standing and a bit about what I think are the reasons for the current state of male mental health awareness and what I can see changing in the future. (I promise not to ramble too much)
So to start with let me begin by saying that I have in the past suffered from both depression and anxiety for which I am technically still on medication for (although I am planning to stop this once my current prescription is completed). This is something that has affected me on and off for the past 5 years whilst studying at university and came to a peak earlier this year when i was increasingly having suicidal thoughts and finally decided to see my GP about it. So in hindsight (oh what a wonderful thing it is) this raises a series of questions. What triggered me to actually do something about it? What was my experience of seeing my GP about my mental health? Why did I wait so many years until I actually sought help about my mental illness, despite knowing that something is wrong?
The answer to the first question is simple, Wendy told me to! I, in my depressed state, didn’t want to talk to anybody about my condition and could not see the benefit that going to my GP would have. Now Wendy was able to look at this situation more objectively (albeit whilst facing her own mental health issues) and could immediately see the benefit this would bring. I took her advice and 8 months later am feeling much better for it; I can never thank her enough for her support!
Now on to the second question! Upon being seen I was met with a comforting GP who believed me immediately, asked about the support I had and offered me different treatment options; simple, easy, no complications… Was it because I’m a man? Now this is something have heard a lot about anecdotally, whereby male friends going to seek medical help for mental health issues are were treated very well and promptly whilst female friends were almost made to prove they had mental illness. In the UK recently there has been a big push recently to increase mental health awareness and promote discourse and a great proportion of this is in men! From adverts encouraging men to support friends, to leaflets encouraging men to talk about mental health and songs by prominent male artists detailing their own struggles with mental illness (on an offhand note as a medical student I have also seen changes to how mental health is being viewed in the medical profession and shall talk about this in a future post). Clearly the reasoning behind this is obvious, the more men talk about mental illness the more we can treat it and through this we can lower the number of suicides seen in young men.
Now the final question is complicated and could almost be read as “why don’t al men talk more about mental illness” now in order to attempt to answer this i’m going to draw on personal experience as well as my own conceptual thoughts on the matter. Now I grew up in a small town in a family of Indian ethnicity from a traditionally working class background. Throw into the mix the fact that I spent my teenage years in the heady days of the late noughties/early 2010’s Lads!Lads!Lads! culture that permeated through British society like the combined scent of teenage boy sweat and lynx Africa and it’s clear why I wouldn’t talk about let alone accept my own mental illness. Put bluntly at the time mental illness was seen as “rich white girl problems”; that as not only a man, but a man from a working class poc background you were supposed to be made of stronger stuff! That people in your recent ancestry who had faced poverty, racism and other hardships did not have time for such frivolities as mental illness, lets not even mention the millions of people starving in the world. No you were taught to be “strong” which in this case means closed.
In my mind things are moving in the right direction with regards to male mental illness and actually I have been thinking about it a lot recently. In my honest opinion the most beneficial ideology to male-oriented mental illness is actually (drumroll please)… Feminism! Now hear me out a for a minute, the same patriarchal notions of gender roles that have shackled women for centuries have in my mind been slowly eroding away the male psyche and with it his sense of mental wellbeing. Men have consistently been taught that their role in life is to be “the breadwinner”, “the sole provider”, “the man of the house” (cringes internally) and that the fate of their family and future prosperity is upon their shoulders. Furthermore men have been sold the lie that actually this is what they should aspire to; that there is no nobler cause than to “be a man” and all the pressure that this entails. What this has led to is countless generations of men feeling pressured to go out, work long hours, move up the ladder financially and effectively make money for someone else. Effectively men have been sold the fallacy that they must be “King of their castle” and shoulder all the burden this entails. Now the most obvious and heinous result of this is the restriction of the rights and liberties of women; but perhaps more insidiously I wonder what this would have done to the mental wellbeing of these men? It’s no great surprise therefore that with the economic and sexual liberation of women that has been brought about by feminism that men are now being encouraged to be more open about their feeling and talk more about mental illness. I personally feel that if men become more aware of not only the privilege but also the damage that the patriarchy has bestowed upon them then it can only improve our relationship with mental health!
Thank you for reading!!!