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It's okay to ask for help

Monday, 13 June 2016 Steven Edwards

For Men’s Health Week, Steven, a police officer who has experienced depression and suicidal feelings, blogs about his experience and why more men need to know it’s okay to talk.

      **This blog contains suicidal themes. Please read with care*

I lay in bed, wide awake, sleep nothing more than a hope. Then it struck me: I have no interest in enduring another day of this.

For the first time, I plotted a way to take my own life.

Unfortunately, my first thoughts of suicide were not my last and had it not been for timely intervention in the previous months, I may well not be here today.

How did I find myself at this point? How did I get that far along? Primarily, by not telling anybody that I was on the way there.

"A staggering 78% of suicides in the UK are by men. Yet not enough people are talking about it."

I had been experiencing anxiety and depression. I was having therapy, trying my best to confront issues I’d never dealt with. But my true feelings were still left behind, confined within my own four walls. I wasn’t sharing them with my friends or family. I was a closed book. Was it because of my upbringing? Was it my job?

Whatever it was, I was a man who did his best to avoid showing ‘weakness’. Weakness was dangerous. Weakness could get you hurt. I believed that showing my emotions was the biggest weakness. So I bottled them up, pushed them aside and left them to be dealt with another day.

Eventually the time came that I ran out of bottles. My emotions ran free, overwhelming me, drowning me from within.

There are too many men out there who were just like me - unwilling or simply too afraid to show they're struggling. Men do not want the stigma of terms like ‘mental illness’ or ‘depression’ hanging over their head. Men are ‘strong’; men ‘keep it together’.

"Opening up when we’re struggling can be the hardest thing, but if we have problems, we need to share them."

But figures show a staggering 78% of suicides in the UK are by men. Suicide is also the leading cause of death for men my age. In England and Wales, 24% of all deaths of men aged 20 - 34 are suicides. Otherwise healthy men, are being cut down in their prime. Yet not enough people are talking about it.

If you listen to a ‘typical’ conversation of a group of men, you might hear discussion about general health or illness; flu and stomach bugs, or even sporting injuries… yet you probably won’t hear talk of mental health. 

So how do we begin to address this problem, this epidemic?

Firstly, we need to talk about it. Opening up when we’re struggling can be the hardest thing, but if we have problems, we need to share them. If we know somebody going through a tough time, we ask them how they're feeling. And if they tell us they’re depressed or anxious, we don’t baulk at the subject, we confront it. I know from my own experience just how difficult that can be  - for many men it doesn't appeal to our sense of ‘machismo’ - but it’s time to step up guys.

Let me appeal to the logical, ‘man’ side of your brain. Imagine if you are helping someone carry something. And they are loading you up, adding more things for you to carry until you realise you can’t hold any more. You’ve reached the limit of your strength and any second now you are going to drop everything. Would you say that you need to share the load? You would. So why should your mental health be any different? Why should you allow yourself to be loaded up until you break?

"Now, I realise that it was the strongest thing I ever did."

I know it might sound easy. I know it’s certainly not. But through my experience and therapy I have learnt I should open up to people about how I’m feeling, instead of bottling up my thoughts and feelings and allowing them to fester. If I’m anxious, I should tell somebody. I’ve also learned:

• there are lots of people who are experiencing – or have experienced – what I’m going through
• the people who truly care about you will move heaven and earth to help you
• there is help available, I just needed to know where to find it
• opening up about my own problems, encourages others to do the same
• having setbacks is normal. There will be bumps along the way

The next step is to raise the message within the public consciousness. We can do that by breaking down the stigma attached to suicide and mental health to make it easier for people to open up about their problems. We can do that by supporting charities like Mind, and Time to Change and by fundraising or sharing blogs like this. We also help support and expand the services offered to those who are suffering. The more help available, the more people can be helped.

I say all of this from a position of experience, because the best thing that I did for myself was to open up. Only when I shared my emotions, did I begin to feel the load lighten and in turn spied a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, I realise that it was the strongest thing I ever did.

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