Friday, September 1, 2017

Guest Post - MENtal health - A man's perspective - Stuart Greenoff

MENtal Health – A Guy’s perspective

Rebecca and I were chatting on Twitter about mental health issues and the idea to write a guest piece for each other’s blog came up. This isn’t uncommon practice in the blogging world and I’m delighted that my first ‘guest post’ could be for someone like Rebecca. (you should check out her book by the way!)

So, what could I write that would be of value to Rebecca’s audience?

Although they share commonalities with my own readers, they may look for different content or are simply used to hearing Rebecca’s ‘voice’.  Then Rebecca noted that she didn’t have much in the way of a male opinion (nor I female) on mental health in her work, and the answer was obvious; I would write a piece about being a guy living with mental illness.
So here we are! This post will look at the unique barriers that guys face when dealing with mental health issues and some of the reasons as to why these problems occur. This list will be far from extensive as I have no experience to pull on apart from my own, so please carry on the conversation in the comments we’d love to hear from you!

Why is it different?
So why do men seemingly have such a hard time dealing with mental illness? Why does the same situation posed to a male and a female mental health consumer, often create stark differences in the way that the situation is dealt with? I’m no behavioral psychologist, but to me the answer seems straightforward, gender bias.

Now before everyone gets all up in arms, hear me out …

Traditionally the way boys are raised varies than that of girls. There are different expectations of males growing up. From a young age, we’re told that ‘Boys don’t cry’ and to ‘stop being a little girl’ if we get upset or are frustrated.  The older we get this expectation only intensifies, guys are expected to ‘tough it out’, ‘man up’ or ‘suck it up’ when faced with adversity rather than discussing the way they feel about a situation. As harmless as it may seem and no matter how well intentioned these comments may be (I believe most people don’t realize the negative connotation behind what they are saying) they have lasting effects on the recipient and can have serious repercussions on the way they deal with their emotions in day to day life.

Dealing with emotion
Quite frankly, we don’t deal with emotions on the most part.  As a guy, we seem to be hardwired to take emotions and turn them into something else. Embarrassment becomes shame, shame becomes frustration, frustration becomes anger  

The shame of having a mental illness and the perceived weakness that comes along with it is quite literally killing Men across the globe.  
Failure isn't something that we are taught to deal with and is frequently admonished when guys mess something up.  Failing is a direct attack on our own masculinity in some cases and again comes back to the feelings of weakness, that we try so hard to run away from.

That is why failure isn't an option for many of us. So, we ignore it and actively stuff any feelings that come from not being perfect, being wrong or less ‘manly’ than we believe we should be down into the farthest reaches of our psyche, where we don’t have to think about it anymore.

Some men, myself included, turn to other substances to mask the way we feel about ourselves. Addiction is much more prevalent in males than in females; we are twice as likely to become alcoholics and three times as likely to become addicted to illicit drugs than our female counterparts (FACT CHECK) This abuse only worsens the problem and as we are less likely to seek help than women (FACT CHECK) guys often don’t see a way out.  The next step is for them to end up a statistic on a report and you can be damn sure that they won’t ‘fail’ at that too…   

This tragic loss of life is largely down to the societal pressures that are imposed on men by those around them, or more often than not, by themselves.

Man up, get over it, don’t be soft, snap out of it, you’re being stupid, the list goes on…

Not worthy of help
I didn’t seek help for my depression and did my best to drink it away for a long time. I thought I was worthless, a drain on those I loved, I felt like less than nothing because I wasn’t living up to my own version of these societal standards. These pressures and the ‘box’ I built myself that I was desperately trying to fit into nearly cost me my life.
Thankfully I had good people around me that helped me through, but I was close, very close to becoming a statistic simply because I couldn’t see any other option at the time.

Men’s health is being spoken about and taken much more seriously than ever before, thanks to groups like Movember, blogs like this one and of course all the brave men and women that have shared their own stories.

Personally, I don’t think mental illness affects Men and Women differently.  I think we feel the same things and share many similar experiences on our journeys, possibly more than we know.  What is apparent is the differences in the way we deal with our issues.  
Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that every guy feels and deals with mental illness in the same way, nor am I saying that every girl talks about her problems and seeks help, but generally that seems to be the way it goes.

A message to those who are struggling
So, if you are a guy reading this and struggling right now remember this for me;
Your feelings are valid and they are yours alone. No one else is feeling what you are, so they can’t understand unless you tell them.  The strongest thing you can do right now is talk to those closest to you about how you are feeling. They love you and they want to help.
From one guy to another, I’ve been there It is horrible and I’m so sorry that you are feeling that way. Trust me when I say you are worth it, you are not a failure and you most certainly are not on your own.

And to everyone;

We are making progress. Breaking down the stigma walls ‘one brick at a time’ thank you for being part of that.  But until we as a society address the root cause of this issue, by educating the next generation that feelings are OK and by supporting boys to be whoever they want to be, without the stereotypes of ‘what men should be’ you need to look out for the guys in your life.   

If you are worried about them bring it up, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them or you feel.  Odds are they aint gonna tell ya about it otherwise!  

Peace and love guys, thanks for reading


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