Those of you that have followed my blog from the beginning know that I am looking to run a marathon in aid of raising awareness of men’s mental health. I have my eye on the Valencia marathon in December but at present I am plagued with a calf injury which has slowed my progress, so I will continue to train but will not set my sights on a time frame to avoid disappointment.
I wanted to share some insights with you as to why I want to run for men’s mental health and the reason why it is so very important to raise awareness. First and foremost, I put my hand up and say, I suffer with my own mental health. I have had ‘mental break-downs’ and suffer with anxiety and bouts of depression so I know the depth of those black holes and the complete sense of loss of control. I can talk about those ‘episodes’ (as I like to call them) very freely and yes, there was a stigma but those barriers are being broken down. Unfortunately, the breaking of the stigma surround mental health conditions appears to be much slower for men when compared to us females. Personally, I have always felt fully supported although, more recently the struggles faced by the NHS have meant longer waiting lists and unreasonable waiting time for some that have sought help.
In December a friend of mine lost her partner to suicide. He has a very young daughter and three older children. My friend is struggling to come to terms with the loss and the whys. When in the depths of depression very sadly, many of us think that friends and family are ‘better off without us’, that we do not ‘bring anything positive’ to their lives, we are ‘weak and worthless’ – let me tell you this – it is absolutely not true! The devastation and sense of loss that is left behind stays with those loved ones until the end of their own days. A sense of misery, what ifs, guilt and blame – will stay with those that are left behind and every day they will ask themselves what they could have done differently. I remember thinking if I could just go to sleep then all this pain would be over – in effect what happens is we transfer our pain onto those we cared for and leave them with the life sentence. I could not see that at the time because that black hole had swallowed up any rational thinking and was so deep and big, the light at the end was not visible.
This is my own personal experience but I feel for men it runs deeper again. I was brought up where my Dad was head of the family, he made the decisions, he made the rules, he battled the problems and he was responsible for putting the food on the table, without my Dad everything would come tumbling down (well I am probably doing my Mum a huge injustice here – but I hope you understand the sentiment). The pressure on my Dad must have been immense. The good news is, society has transitioned – women share the responsibilities and men do not need to carry the burden any longer. The responsibilities are often split within families and decision making is taken together. Now women often talk freely about suffering from anxiety and depression and there is no judgement so why is there still this stigma surrounding men?!
- Men are more likely to commit suicide. Suicide is still the single biggest killer in men under the age of 45. In Plymouth alone, there is approximately 1 suicide a fortnight and to put this into context, approximately 75% of suicides in the UK are men.
- Fewer men are actually diagnosed with mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression. We have to ask – is it because they are less likely to suffer? NO, it is because they are less likely to seek help and are more prone to internalisation of those feelings.
- Whilst barriers are being broken down and people are talking more openly, there is a still a ‘man-up’ culture that needs to be removed. I have caught myself using the phrase myself (out of context) and it needs to change. The expression man-up is suggesting weakness – how is expressing concerns and reaching out for help weak? It isn’t.
- This old ‘men don’t cry’ idea – why the hell not? My 6’3 military husband (I tell you the details again to break down the stigma) broke down at the vets when our cat was put down last week. Crying is not weak, crying is an outlet for emotion. Why should he not have shown the pain he was feeling, he was devastated and held her in his arms until she passed.
- Men are more likely to use alcohol or other substances to help with their struggles, this is a depressant in itself – trust me I know. It becomes a vicious cycle and I know for many it becomes very difficult to break. It also increases the likelihood of attempting suicide.
Mental health issues are hugely complex, there is still much research to be performed for us to untangle the workings of the brain (I work in neuroscience and whilst huge leaps have been made, there is still a huge amount more to lean). The good news is that mental health awareness is growing and will continue to do so. More groups are being set up, to support men.
I am following a new and local Facebook group called Males Allowed and when I enter my marathon, I will be raising funds for this non-profit charity. So, I am asking you to help decrease the gender gap and raise awareness. I want my friends that suffer and my friend that passed to suicide never to have to feel they cannot climb out of that black whole again – let us all pick up our torches and shine a light to guide them back out again.
With love to you all, my message is – do not be afraid to reach out. When I am pounding those streets in my first ever marathon, I will be doing it with you all in my heart.