Women: It’s your campaign too.

Talking to a girlfriend of mine at the weekend, we were discussing male depression and mental health issues. When I asked her what type of man she wanted, she said a ‘real man’, a man that is a grown up and will take care of her, someone who doesn’t cave at the first sign of intimacy or problems and who will support her emotionally.

Interesting.  Mostly because we then agreed that her view was likely pre-determined by an upbringing that taught her that “real men don’t cry”. That they are strong at all times, capable, protectors, bread winners etc. All passé stuff these days, you’d think, and certainly if I had asked my friend if she agreed that men shouldn’t express their feelings, she would shout me down from the rooftops. Interesting, then, that she still had an ingrained belief those men should perform the capable and solid role in her life. She acknowledged how difficult it must be for men when they experience emotional distress or depression, as our society is simply not open enough about these things for men to feel able to express themselves at the time they need to the most. We have come a long way, but there is still much further to go.

What was even more interesting was that she then resignedly asked me if I ever thought it would change. If there would ever be a time when men felt able to openly discuss their feelings of despair or upset, to ask for and get the help they needed. It occurred to me how much contradiction existed in our conversation.

Although it won’t happen overnight and there is a lot that needs to change, I like to think, no have to think, that it is possible and it will happen in my lifetime. Much has happened to change the position of women in our society over my lifetime (being a child of the 70s), and even more significant changes happened in the 50s and 60s. These changes in the way women work, their position in society, their expectations and even their legal rights have succeeded in changing society’s perception of women in general. Whilst some might not agree that all of the changes are for the better, that is not the point. It is the fact that a huge sea change in and by society has taken place that is the relevant factor here.

So if society can create and support such a change in the perceptions of women’s roles, can it not also do the same for attitudes and beliefs around male emotions, mental health, depression and suicide?

I believe it can and will. I have to; otherwise I cannot continue to bear the burden of my partner’s own suicide last year. Since that terrible day I have questioned myself, and others, over and over about what my role might have been in his decision to end his life. Why didn’t I notice the signs? Was there more I could have done as his girlfriend to help him, to enable him to feel that he could have confided in me that all was not well. He was in his early thirties and seemingly had everything to live for. Except there had always been an inherent sadness in him. I used to tease him that he didn’t smile enough – because when he did it would light up his face and my heart would skip more than one beat every time. But sadly my unwavering support and love was not enough on its own to sustain him and I realise now, nearly a year later, that it was not Jack that did that to himself but the terrible, often misunderstood and stigmatised issue of depression.

I recently read “The Suicidal Mind” by Edwin S Shneidman. There is one passage in particular that’s helped me to realise that Jack didn’t do what he did to punish me. He also didn’t wake up one day and think to himself, I’m going to piss off everyone who knows and cares about me today by killing myself. In reality his despair and pain were so great, his “psycache”, as the author calls it, was so overwhelming that those close to him were blinkered out – we simply didn’t figure in his decision that day. It wasn’t a selfish or mean decision, it was purely one of extreme and all encompassing pain, a wish for it to just stop and tragically for those of us left behind, we simply feel powerless and heartbroken that we couldn’t have done something, anything, to change things for him.

But how can we prevent ourselves from being powerless again in the future. How can we ensure that every man in our lives knows that we accept, cherish and understand them in good times and bad? That we want them to feel able to tell us (or anyone else) what is going on for them, to seek help at the most crucial time and not be thought less of?

By announcing it loud and proud; by telling our partners, friends, sons, brothers and husbands that depression and suicide knows no cultural, religious or gender boundaries. That we are all just human beings doing the best we can on our journeys through the world. That occasionally we all need help and support and that actually real men do cry.

So why don’t we all send the men in our lives a text, an email, a postcard or go crazy and speak to them face to face and simply say ‘it’s ok for you to feel exactly as you feel, today and every day’. Perhaps we need a campaign by women, for men. A day every year when women do something as a collective to raise awareness of male suicide and depression. It might sound simple, but what if we all wore a purple t shirt that day – an outward sign that so many of us know or have known a man in our lives who has experienced depression. I think society would be surprised by how many purple t shirts there would be walking along the street and perhaps this would encourage other men to reach out for help.

As women, we need to challenge men’s own perceptions of what they think the opposite sex think about their emotions, and how it is acceptable for them to express them. After all, asking for help is a sign of bravery, not one of weakness.  Depression doesn’t give a damn who you are or what side of the gender fence you sit on and frankly neither do I.  If you are in pain, you should live in a society which enables you to feel comfortable asking for help , fullstop.

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4 Responses to

Women: It’s your campaign too.

  1. Thanks Clare for your comments.

    Rene Brown a speaker at TedEx and in her new book makes similar comments about male vulnerability.

    Keep up the good work.

    Vaughan Bowie

    Vaughan Bowie 12th December 2012 at 10:23 am
  2. Hi Clare

    I’m very recently widowed, my husband took his own life in December and I unfortunately found him. He was 34 years old, loved by everyone, life and soul of the party so it was a great shock to discover he was so depressed that he felt he could no longer go on.

    Since it happened all I can think about is trying to make people more aware of depression, to spot the signs and take action. Men are such closed books and keep their feelings to themselves, in my husbands case he clearly went to great lengths to cover up his feelings. If he had ever spoken out about his feelings perhaps i could have saved him.

    I really like your idea of creating a campaign by women for men, if we can save just one person our grief won’t be for nothing. I’d also appreciate any advise on support groups that I can go to, I feel I need to speak to people who have experienced the same thing.

    Best wishes

    kate jones-mackay 13th January 2013 at 5:20 pm
  3. Hello Kate, thank you for your comment and I’m so sorry to hear about your husband taking his life. My thoughts are with you and your friends and family. It’s still very early days for you and you will be experiencing a whole range of emotions. I can only say be kind to yourself and allow yourself to do, feel and be whatever you need right now. My heart aches to hear that yet another person is experiencing the trauma and loss that losing a loved one to suicide creates. Nothing I or anyone else can say will make it better, but reaching out to others who are in a similar situation really does help. It has been a lifeline for me over the past year. There is a charity called Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS). They provide a range of support – a national helpline where you can talk to volunteers who have also experienced loss through suicide, and a number of local support groups around the country. Have a look at their website for more information – http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk. There are around 40 groups now (all run by volunteers who have also been bereaved) and they are a wonderfully open and supportive environment for people at all stages of their grief to come to if they wish. I attend a group close to where I live so if you can’t find the information you need I can help further.

    Today I read the news article that the Government has announced the suicide statistics for 2011 and the rate is up amongst men substantially in England and Wales. It was like a stab in the heart realising that my own partner was one of those 6,045 men. We have to try and reduce any stigma around male emotions, feelings and mental health issues. We just have to. I’m pleased you liked the campaign by women idea – I wrote it without thinking about it too seriously but as time goes by I feel I need to do something with the idea. I’m going to give it some serious thought and see what I can come up with. If you or anyone else is reading this and is interested in suggesting ideas/helping, let me know.

    Kate – please take good care of yourself and its good that you have reached out for some support as you are right, it helps us all so much to know we are not alone in our grief and the strength and support I have got over the past year has often been from complete strangers who have become some of my closest confidantes and friends. We have a saying in our group, its a club that no one wants to join but we are at least grateful that the support is there and it does exist.

    If I can help with any more information, do let me know. With all my thoughts and best wishes

    Clare 22nd January 2013 at 3:39 pm
  4. I have an interest in being involved….have been directed to this site in an effort to try and gain an outlet for my husband…I now just need to put the information under his nose and hope.My journey here unfortunately required someone to lose someone,and as it seems the trouble must exist,I would rather people have the benefit of discovering this without loss,like I have been fortunate to do…I’ve been enlightened and lifted by being here only 10 minutes.
    I would never have known about this without that persons loss,and I’d like to help make people more generally aware if I can x

    Leanne 2nd April 2013 at 12:29 pm

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