What do you do, when you don’t feel quite yourself? Getting through the week - or even just the day - feels overwhelming. It’s not that you don’t have the strength somewhere inside, it’s that you don’t have the willpower, the desire, it all just feels a bit, well, hopeless. Like you want to walk away. Like there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. What do you do, when you don’t recognise yourself anymore, not the guy you were a few years back? The stress, the commitments, the people who’ve let you down - the people you’ve let down - the whole great swirling headache of it all.
Maybe you think to yourself, “suck it up, get on with it”, maybe you think “I just can’t cope anymore like this, but I can’t talk to anyone about this. Don’t want to feel weak, or stupid. Don’t want the people close to me to think less of me in some way”. Or maybe you simply think of how you wish it’d all go away, that the ground could just close up over you and you could finally escape, disappear into silence and darkness.
That’s the thing with men’s mental health: that we, as men, are much less likely to be aware that what we are experiencing is a mental health issue . We might shrug it off, try to distract ourselves away from the gnawing, hollow feeling that keeps returning whenever we stop the doing; the un-satisfactoriness of life, the heartache, the grief, the memories we’ve pushed back into the depths, the missed chances, the way life hasn’t turned out how we’d thought it would. We keep things at bay as best we can so we can just get through the days. So no, perhaps that’s just life - we think. That’s not a mental health thing. And so we carry on.
Yet how can we carry on, really? In the UK as a man under the age of 45, the thing you’re most likely to die of? Not cancer, not a car crash, not a heart condition - suicide . Let that sink in. As a male under 45 in the UK the most likely thing to kill you, is you. This equates to 18 deaths every day, and you don’t have to speak to too many people to find someone who has directly been affected by the human truth behind that numerical figure.
Men’s mental health issues are wide ranging, yet that range of problems is even more pronounced for African and Caribbean men, based on their perceptions of mental health services and a belief that these services will discriminate against them . Mental health issues hold vast numbers of the population in their silent grip, yet each individual is struggling with their own complex array of conditions, circumstances and intersectionality affected by age, race, class, sexual orientation, grief and more.
So what do we do? For sure - we must increase visibility and continue to normalise the topic of men’s mental health. Charities such as C.A.L.M. provide life-changing service to hundreds of thousands of men each year, helping them talk, be heard, and find the best way through their unique situation.
But we also need to acknowledge, that men may not see themselves as having mental health issues, that the lexicon around this topic carries with it a stigma - that you have to be “really crazy’, or in psychosis, or in a Victorian style asylum for it to be considered mental health. We need to talk about mental health as a spectrum, and that feeling low and hopeless for several months on end is not normal, or just what “life is supposed to be like”. It has real causes and real solutions.
And on an individual level, if you are aware of these issues around mens’ mental health, if you too have had your struggles and battles, then we owe it to our fellow men to share openly about that, to be vulnerable, and to erode the archaic structures and ‘stiff upper lip’ mentalities that keep us locked in our own silence and darkness. Men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and community so we have to step up and be that support for them.
If you know someone who seems to be struggling, you don’t have to call them out on it, it’s not your place to diagnose them or tell them what’s wrong, but it is your place to listen and you can let them know you’re there for them, that you’ve got their back if they want to talk. You can show them through your own openness and strength to speak of your own experiences, that you too have had your struggles, and that talking about it openly has been really helpful. The men in your life may appear to have it all together on the surface, but let them know that you’ve got their back and that talking it through can bring about peace of mind and a problem shared.
This article was written for us by our awesome Brand Warrior, yoga teacher and writer, Soho-based James Rafael. For more information about James, click here