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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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7 Responses to this article

  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
    VaughanBowie.com

    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

    kate jones-mackay 13th January 2013 at 5:20 pm
  3. Kate, a good org is Sobs http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk. Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.

    They list local support groups across the UK for friends, relatives and partners bereaved by the suicide of a loved one. They also have a helpline: 0844 561 6855.

    Talking therapies can also offer time and space to come to explore what you are feeling. MInd offers free counselling support, and many others offer low-cost support. The BACP (BRitish association of counsellors and psychotherapists) website is a good place to start, as it lists accredited, qualified therapists that abide by an ethical code: http://www.bacp.co.uk

    I hope you find the right support for you.

    Warm wishes

    Lucy

    Lucy 14th January 2013 at 10:09 am
  4. 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

    Clare 22nd January 2013 at 3:39 pm
  5. 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
  6. As a man suffering with depression and deep thoughts of suicide this article and the comments by women have touched my heart. My thoughts are with you. The deepest parts of me feel I should be deeply ashamed and sorry for not being the all singing all dancing provider, father, unswerving protector. My masculinity has felt destroyed and humiliated, deep, deep pain. Last year my mother died I was her main carer. I have realized that masculinity is what men want it to be. It is a book with men’s lives written in it and with infinite blank pages yet to be written on. My heart goes out to you. I feel somehow responsible for your loss, but i know this is foolish, and self destructive. But my heart also feels warmed by the support. You will be glad to know I am shedding lots of masculine tears writing this. Thank you is all I can say.

    Shaunvin 4th May 2014 at 2:18 pm
  7. If a man complains about anything he is shamed for it. We have less reactive immune systems because biology promotes males getting things done in stressful times over protecting their lives so when the stress is over or the immune system can’t delay anymore we tend to have worse colds and flu symptoms because the illness has been allowed to progress unchallenged for so long. At that point we are told we have a “man-cold” meaning we just complain too much. Any pain a man may have is dismissed as nothing compared to child birth even when women who have experienced both can verify that the condition was worse for her than childbirth was.

    The reason men are shamed away from any hint of vulnerability is that the threat narratives society uses to impose gender norms provide value to people who are vulnerable and require service from people who have agency. If a man displays–and is conceded–vulnerability, society can not ask him to earn his worth and status to the same extent. Women have biological and sociological worth which is innate. Without females everything is over. Men are more disposable so they must earn their worth. Vulnerability makes a man less useful to women and to society so it can not be tolerated.

    No one talks about what a “real woman” should do but the definition of a “real man” is very similar to the description of a “good servant”; loyal, strong, uncomplaining, protective, sacrificing, brave, honest and wiling to die to protect women, children and queen and country.

    Men mostly won’t talk about depression because it’s like holding up a massive sign saying that, by every societal standard he is admitting to failure as a man. It’s a banner saying: “I can’t just suck it up like “real” men are supposed to. I can’t be quiet in my suffering. I can’t be as strong as I am supposed to be. I admit to weakness.” It’s an invitation to have all the shame used to make men fulfill their role in society, justified in even their own eyes. Death is nothing compared to having your identity shattered.

    But hey… Just “man tears” as the feminists like to say.

    Sean 11th May 2014 at 7:42 am

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