Men and Mental Health
I’m Chris McLay and I’ve been delivering Mental Health First Aid sessions and other mental health and wellbeing sessions to colleagues across the university for several years now.
I love meeting people from all areas of the university at these sessions but it’s always interesting to see that the gender ratio at these sessions is generally about 75% female and 25% male. There are exceptions of course but this is a rough ball-park figure. It’s funny because men suffer from mental health issues just as much as women but the research and evidence often shows that men are generally not as comfortable talking about or sometimes even accepting their emotions. As a mental health first aid instructor, I’ve always been passionate about trying to explore the reasons why this might be the case and trying to break through some of the stigma surrounding men and mental health.
Last year though, when the Covid-19 pandemic first broke and shook all our lives in different shapes and forms, I found my own mental health take a massive tumble. I felt like the rug had been pulled from under me and all of a sudden instead of talking about mental health and supporting others, I found myself crying uncontrollably every day and plunging into depression and anxiety. It happened with a power and force that was unimaginable to me and the grip, power and speed in which it took control of my life frightened me. My confidence was shredded and I was plagued with guilt that I was letting everyone down I had ever supported. I felt like a fraud and I was embarrassed that I was suffering from this illness and that it shouldn’t be happening to me. Every day, my thoughts got darker and I felt more and more out of control.
I am proud to tell you that those feeling eventually passed. With the sheer love, support and kindness of so many people around me, I was able to accept that I was ill and needed help. Some of that help was professional and some of it was from the sheer kindness and friendship and emotional support from those around me. I managed to stop punishing myself for feeling ill and find the bravery from within myself to seek help and then actively recover. I realised that sometimes stigma can come from within and my own ego and male pride was driving some of the negative perceptions I was having. It was also incorrectly feeding the assumptions I was making about myself, the situation and how others might see me.
I have learned through this experience that mental health challenges affect everyone and it is nothing to do with weakness and we have to remove some of the shame and guilt that we might attach to such feelings. As time began to pass and I felt able to speak out about what I’d gone though, I was amazed at how many men spoke to me and said they identified with the same issues. It’s ok. None of us are alone. These things happen and if we all show kindness to those around us, we can help and we can find hope. What often gets forgotten is that we have to also show a bit of kindness to ourselves too.