Men: mental health issues are not a sign of weakness

Men also suffer from mental health disorders and there is no shame in admitting you need help.
Men also suffer from mental health disorders and there is no shame in admitting you need help.

About one in four people in the world will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their lives. And, according to a report on Our World in Data, mental health disorders remain widely under-reported. They report that in 2016, 15.5% of the global population suffered from a mental or substance abuse disorder, of more than half were men. Yet, men still suffer from the stigma attached to mental illness.

“Men often feel that they have to be ‘strong’ for their families and carry their burdens on their own, but in fact it is much more responsible and courageous to get the help you need,” says suicide survivor Daryl Brown. “It will also strengthen your relationships and deepen the trust between you and family/friends to be open and real about your emotions. Then you really have the mental and emotional capacity to be there for them when they need it.

“I think the most important thing is for people, especially men, who have been through a battle with their mental health, or who are dealing with it, to open up about it. We need examples of people who are living full lives, with productive jobs and successful relationships, despite their mental health challenges, to 'normalise' depression and give people who are ‘in the closet’ about their depression or anxiety the courage to ask for help.

"I think in many ways the stigma around depression is similar to that which the LGBT community have faced. Only through keeping the conversation going, raising awareness, and examples of high profile LGBT people living 'normal' lives, has the stigma lessened."

Daryl is currently involved with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and Movember to help raise awareness. He adds, “Raising awareness of mental health issues at schools has given me a new sense of purpose and added meaning to my life.”

Movember 2018

Daryl says it’s important to talk about your feelings and reach out if you are struggling. “The Movember movement's drive this year is to encourage men to become men of more words and to be real about their situations. That also means encouraging each other and being intentional about showing people that you are there to support them. Depression and anxiety are becoming more and more common, and most people will experience these feelings at some point in their lives. It's nothing to be ashamed of.”

Men, mental health and myths

While there are many myths out there regarding mental health, there are many that relate to men.

1. Depression is a sign of weakness

Depression is never a sign of weakness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says, “[Depression] is a serious health condition that millions of men contend with every year. It’s no different than if you develop diabetes or high blood pressure – it can happen to anyone. We show our strength by working and building supports to get better.”

2. Men should be able to control their feelings

A mental illness like depression is a mood disorder, which can make a person feel down when there is no reason to. However, while you can’t control how you feel, you are in control of how you react – instead of ignoring your depression and the way it makes you feel, take action and ask for help.

3. Real men don’t need to ask for help

There is no shame in asking for help when you have a mental illness. If you are struggling to fix a leaking toilet, you won’t feel any shame for calling a plumber. NAMI says consulting a professional who has more knowledge of depression and treatment options is the smartest thing to do. “Trying to battle a mental health condition on your own is like trying to push a boulder up a mountain by yourself – without a team to back you up, it’s going to be a lot harder.”

34-year-old Brendan* felt at his manliest when asking for help. He told Hattie Gladwell at, “I think people really need to understand. The 'manliest' moment in my life didn’t happen when I was displaying how tough I was, it happened when I opened up about how fragile I always am. That. That was real bravery. Admitting you’re not strong is the strongest you’ll ever feel. Not necessarily at first, but you soon realise it. You’ve never been more of a ‘man’.”

4. Talking about it won’t help 

Ignoring depression won’t make it go away. Talk therapy (or psychotherapy) is a proven treatment for depression. So speaking to a trained professional can help you navigate through a tough time in your life. “There’s nothing embarrassing about needing to see a psychologist or take antidepressants, if that's what it takes to keep you healthy. It has enabled me to engage in my work and relationships in a way that I couldn't before, when the depression dragged me down into a fog that separated me from everything and everyone around me,” Daryl previously told Health24.

5. Depression makes you a burden

That’s exactly why Daryl tried to take his life because he believed he would burden his loved ones. “Everyone had their own troubles and they were dealing with it, so why couldn't I deal with my stuff? I didn't think that a therapist would be able to say something that would suddenly make everything better,” says Daryl. But, it's important to know that depression does not make you a burden.

NAMI reiterates this and says that it actually makes people feel good to help a loved one, so don’t try to hide what you’re going through from them. They say, "What’s most frustrating is when someone needs help, but they refuse to ask for it."

If you need help, contact SADAG. You can speak to a counsellor between 08:00 and 20:00 Monday to Sunday by calling 011 234 4837. For a suicidal emergency call 0800 567 567. The 24-hour contact is 0800 12 13 14. Alternatively, you can SMS 31393 and SADAG will call you back.

* Name has been changed to protect identity

Image credit: iStock

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