So how many times have you overheard someone say, personally or in the media, that going to counselling or being anxious/depressed is a sign of weakness?
Sad to say, but we haven’t moved on with the times in this domain. Despite the raised awareness about the results associated with chronic mental health issues (unhappiness, distress, dysfunction, physical-health issues, including addiction, and, in particular suicide) it is still seen as “humiliating” and “weak” to search out help from a professional or to even admit to friends, family or co-workers that one has a mental health problem.
Why is this distinction made, as we are more than happy to share with people about the functional and physical issues we have and the treatment we may be pursuing to manage them? The issue dates back, one would think, to the days when superstition surrounded any mental aberration from the norm. This would be in the early nineteenth century, where, due to lack of information about the workings of the mind, it meant we were subject to suspicion of “possession by spirits”, witchcraft and insanity as the culprit. Understandable perhaps if it were a primitive society.
However, we now know the effects various influences which can cause temporary or permanent mental health issues:
- brain-damage issues (at birth or by accidental damage),
- family dysfunction in childhood (abandonment, violence/abuse or neglect),
- effects of chemicals on the brain (prescribed medication or street drugs, including alcohol),
- loss and grief or caring for someone over a long period of disability or illness
the outcome of prolonged lack of sleep, prolonged stress or domestic violence
- and sometimes just the natural imbalance of our brain chemicals for whatever reason we may never learn
So with this hangover from the middle ages, we have brought the issues into the modern world and we are still not been able to access the multiple benefits of properly treating our problems. Although we know it is so much easier to bear with help, care and support. And even with the awareness that familiar people may gossip or misunderstand these issues, so we may be better off with seeing a neutral, empathetic, fully-trained professional with a tool-kit of strategies and treatment modalities that can speed up this process, in a confidential and safe environment, where we can move on and it becomes a distant and possibly forgotten issue, we DO NOT access this help. The hangover from the past must surely be stopped. We are suffering unduly.
Another impediment to help-seeking also appears to be gender: men are far less likely to seek support then are women.
A survey commissioned by “The Mental Health Foundation (Victoria)” found that men are far less likely than women to seek out professional support. They are also less likely to reveal and discuss their mental health issues with family and friends. The “YouGov” survey polled 2 500 people and showed that 28% of men (700) admitted not seeking help compared with 19% of women (475).
It also revealed that a third of women as opposed to a quarter of the men had concealed their issues from others. They had waited up to two years or had chosen never to reveal their mental health
issues. Mark Rowland (Director of the Mental Health Foundation) stated : “Mental Health is so central to our experience of being alive that if we are ever to rise to the challenge of preventing mental health problems, it will be because men feel more able to share when they are vulnerable.”
“This is not about being more of a man but being honest about mental health, but when more in touch with our humanity” (The Guardian – online).
It takes courage to be open and honest about mental health, but when suicide is the leading cause of death in young men, we all have a responsibility to push for cultural change.”
Dave Chawner (comedian) had anorexia and depression for ten years before seeking support and backed these findings:
“It’s important to talk about gender when we talk about mental health.
It is more accepted for men to deal with stress, emotions and anger. Anything else is interpreted as vulnerability and it is shut down.”
So the message is that, maybe we have to move more into the new century our thinking? Men, in particular, need support and encouragement to normalise their feelings, their day-to-day struggles and acknowledge the bumps in the road.
A new website promoting men’s mental health is ‘Trademutt’ on Facebook. They sell vibrant, high- vis colourful clothing and, in their light-hearted manner sing, dance and promote that ‘even tradies can get help’: what a refreshing approach…maybe we can head off rage, violence and lonely desperation by intervening easily and soon? A brave new world for mental health.