This post is part of my series for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018! The series includes articles, poems, and photo essays by many guest authors about mental health and related issues. For more information, click here!
How do you think men’s mental health is treated when compared to general mental health or women’s mental health?
I definitely think there remains more of a stigma in society regarding men’s mental health compared to women’s. That, said I think this is changing now though with men’s mental health getting more publicity(it is over here anyway). For example, there is a famous soap opera over here called Coronation Street and just last week, a main well-known character committed suicide. A few years ago the subject of male depression was a storyline featured in a comedy-drama called Cold Feet. Well known male music and sport stars have come out in the last few years talking about their mental health battles. eg Professor Green(musician) and cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff. There is definitely more of a societal conversation going on right now about male mental health than there ever has been in the past. i.e men suffer as much as women.
Did the perception of men’s mental health influence when and how your spoke out or found help?
Initially, I found talking about my OCD and mental health hard to do, because twenty years ago society wasn’t like it is now, ie. not as many people openly talked about their issues publicly. This had nothing to do with my gender though I don’t think. My gender never impacted on me seeking help, or when I did so. I just couldn’t carry on like I was doing.
How does the stigma around men’s mental health affect your recovery?
I never been a conformist, so I don’t think the stigma around men’s mental health has impacted on my recovery that much. In fact, perhaps it even helped my recovery because I started blogging about my struggles to create more awareness and to change attitudes. Social media has been a great tool for me because Facebook and Twitter have helped me get over my fear about publicly talking about my mental health, via me posting my blogs on there and doing various group chats. To chat to other men on there also with mental health issues, it was lovely to feel less alone and less alienated with my suffering.
Do you think that your experience around being a mentally ill man is the norm? If not, what do you think is the norm?
I guess it’s hard to generalise with what is the norm? I know I wear my heart on my sleeve all of the time and am very open emotionally, so I no doubt differ from some men in this regard. I guess some men find it harder to open up about their inner feelings. For example, I have a male best friend who doesn’t have mental issues, but I know he doesn’t open up publicly about how he feels about things as much as I do. Years ago men in society didn’t confess how they felt to people, to their detriment they held it all in but thank goodness this is changing now.
What do you think contributed to your being able to ‘rise above’ the stigma or ignore it?
I’m a fighter and a strong willed person. You can either choose to be the passive victim or be pro-active, and try to get better and make a difference. I’ve never been a conformist in life and so I’m like that with regards to both my physical and mental health issues. I’m determined not to be defined by mental health. By this, I mean that there is a lot more to me than just my OCD and GAD. I’m also a very open minded person so am against all types of prejudice in life.
If you had to give advice to other men near the beginnings of their recoveries, what would you tell them?
I’d advise other men to be brave and to talk to as many people as they can about their struggles and issues. Be as open as possible. Only through more conversation about male mental health, will then we see the stigma reduced. Blog about how you’re feeling because there will be thousands of men out there going through a similar thing but suffering in silence. Admitting to and discussing your mental health is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength in my book.
If you could talk to pre-mental illness Andy, what would you tell him?
I would say to pre-mental health illness Andy, that if you ever get a mental health issues then be sure to try medication. This is because I resisted for so long not being on meds and quite simply I was too scared to do the exposures and the CBT not on any meds. I’ve only been on fluoxetine and aripiprazole for about 16 months but they have changed my life soooooo much for the better. I’m such a calmer person on them and have found the courage whilst taking them, to do anxiety provoking CBT exercises. Meds aren’t a cure but they will really help. I’d also say that only you can get yourself better, nobody else. Do not let the OCD waste years of your life because you only have one life and it is a very precious thing. People do get better, I will get better if I’m ever ill, no contamination phobia is worth thinking about killing yourself over. If you hit hard times then keep fighting because you will get there.