“There is a phrase I’ve often seen related to mental illness that says ‘being silent isn’t being strong.’ It’s a powerful and truthful statement but I would go further and say that being open and vulnerable is being strong. In the case of my own battles with depression and anxiety, it is through being open about my struggles and talking to those willing to listen that I have found an outlet to express my pain and move forward constructively and successfully. The idea that men should be permanently resilient creatures who don’t show their feelings is very outdated and certainly doesn’t have a place in our stressful modern world. As men, we can, and do, find ourselves (and place ourselves) under relentless pressure to be successful as husbands, fathers, in our careers and more besides; so it is little wonder that we can struggle at times!
The more open and honest we can be the better – to be vulnerable is not to be weak, it is merely to be human and every man will be vulnerable at many points in his life. That is not to say that there aren’t times when we should keep things to ourselves, at least until the right opportunity arises: throughout my 20’s I experienced repeated bouts of severe depression that came at a time when I was engaged in a career that I found deeply unsatisfying – I had little self esteem and very much defined myself as a depressed man with little else to offer the world. Every time I dated a girl I would end up telling them about my struggles with depression as I couldn’t see beyond my battle with the illness; my lack of self esteem made me unable to see, and be proud of, all the other aspects of my personality. One girl told me that if I ever wanted a serious girlfriend then I should maybe wait until the relationship had developed before launching into the deepest details of my illness. She had a point.
But on the whole, we men need to get out there and talk about our feelings as much as we can with those who will listen and not judge us. There are many amazing support groups all over the country with strict rules around confidentiality so we can say what we really feel, safe in the knowledge that what is said in the room stays in the room. There are also countless compassionate and empathetic individuals who are willing to listen. I feel really strongly that to be open and honest is a sign of real strength and can help us to manage unsettling feelings and learn effective tools for managing our problems. In my many sessions of group therapy I have learnt so much about how others cope as well as being able to safely unburden myself of my dark ruminations.
I do feel that more men than ever are speaking out, but the shocking statistics around male suicide show that we need to keep talking and encouraging others to do so – in many instances of suicide I believe that men do not wish to die, they just don’t understand that what they are going through is a mental illness, that it is treatable and is as valid as any physical illness. Shame is a very prominent symptom of depression. How many times do we hear of men who displayed no symptoms of mental illness taking their own lives, seemingly out of the blue? Far too often is the answer and it is a tragedy that deeply affects the many people left behind.
Please, men who read this, don’t be afraid to speak out about your troubles and ask for help, as there are so many out there willing and happy to listen. At the same time please be a sympathetic non-judgemental ear to others who are in distress as you may well do something amazing and help save a beautiful life.
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