Men like me still feel ashamed to ask for help, and with NHS mental health services failing it’s no wonder.
“Things like that don’t happen to people like me”. That’s what I’d told myself for years. What did I have to be depressed about? Nothing at all, actually, but that isn’t the way it works.
There’s nothing to make you reconsider your assumptions quite like sitting in a room with someone you’ve never met while they ask you to rank your suicidal feelings on a scale of one to 10. I doubt I’ll ever forget what the doctor told me, or the way he said it. “Please don’t spend too much time by yourself, that would be a risk”, as if he was telling me not to drink too many fizzy drinks.
I wouldn’t even know where to start in describing what rock bottom feels like, apart from to say that I wouldn’t wish for anyone else to find out. Mental illness isn’t pleasant and it certainly isn’t easy to talk about. That is why it has taken me so long to be able to discuss my problems and seek help – and that is why so many thousands of other people suffer alone and in silence.
In this country we have a problem that we can’t shy away from anymore. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and last year 12 men died by their own hand every single day. That is a public health crisis, but we aren’t talking about it enough.
There is some evidence that attitudes are slowly changing. Mental healthcare is higher up the political agenda than ever before, with politicians from across the spectrum promising “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health. Yet the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness is still a huge problem, with a recent CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) survey finding that many men stay silent about their problems because they felt ashamed and didn’t want to talk about their feelings or make a fuss.
These fears can be worse than the illness itself, and they are what made me bottle my own problems up and resist help. But I don’t see how the situation can even begin to change without more men speaking up saying that it isn’t a sign of weakness to suffer.
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