As part of Movember, Lee blogs about the importance of getting men talking about mental health.
Lee (@leecambule) lives in Swansea with his wife. At the time of writing, he was a Time to Change Wales champion and works as the Wales Project Manager for Mind Cymru.
Read more about Lee on his website leecambule.com/mental-health
This month is the annual Movember movement across the world, an opportunity to raise awareness and tackle the issues of men’s health.
In recent years, this has grown and expanded from the opportunity to avoid shaving for 30 days (that was always my excuse) to addressing many health topics, including suicide prevention among men. This has been particularly welcome in Wales, where suicide rates are higher for men than in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Part of the stigma that still exists about mental health for men is that men have greater difficulty talking about their own struggles than women do. My own personal experience as a Mental Health Champion with Time to Change Wales (TTCW) has also evidenced the challenge “us blokes” face. In the last twelve months, I have seen more talks, more blogs, and more online content on the subject from women than men.
Why does it seem to be more difficult for men to address their own mental health?
I am still faced with some outdated stereotypes as a man suffering from depression; men as a source of
“Strength, dominating positions of power, the hunter-gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is alluring/attractive, the “show no weakness” bravado of heroes in our media.”
In many of these macho images, there is little room for showing poor mental health. The men who are most revered in society (famous, wealthy, successful, powerful) are not always ready to admit their struggles in public, and that can leave the “average bloke” feeling uncertain about speaking out.
It is great that the tide is turning for men. When Prince William and Prince Harry began talking openly about their own mental health challenges, it gave the nation an incredible lift. One by one, more of these revered men are coming forward and openly addressing mental health; footballers, politicians, actors, anyone can talk about it. I do not consider that these men are weak or failing by speaking out. In fact, they are the brave ones.
They are the ones who are “manning up”.
That expression is still often used for the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The concept that mental health can be conquered by simply acting more “like a man” is misguided.
Depression, anxiety, personality disorders and schizophrenia are no more or less difficult based on whether you got a Y chromosome in your DNA.
Whenever I give an awareness talk, I stress that the guidance, support and services that are available do not discriminate based on gender; men are as entitled to help and respect as women.
Perhaps I have been one of the lucky ones. I suffered from depression at the age of 14, I came perilously close to suicide twice, and I faced struggles with my mental health for most of my life. Yet, I am still here. This is down to a few good people, a lot of difficult days and one resolution to survive that has often wavered but never failed.
One of the reasons that I turned my life around is that I managed to tackle this problem directly. Not only did I endure those hard times, but it also made me determined to learn more about mental health problems. I became a champion of mental health in the workplace, I joined the TTCW campaign, and for the last five months, I have been working for one of the biggest mental health charities in Wales.
I was lucky to find the support and strength to not just endure my problems but to turn them into my own personal campaign to address stigma and discrimination so that other men like me feel safe in talking about their own challenges.
There has never been a better time to seek – and be accepted for – help with your mental wellbeing. I recently reminded a friend that while you can get better, the first step has to be yours. If you are suffering from poor mental health, it might feel like the hardest step to take, but it can lead to easier and better steps too.
Some of the ways I found to tackle this challenge include:
I have spoken about this subject to men of all ages, different backgrounds and with a variety of mental health concerns. It is encouraging to see more men talking about mental health, and this trend needs to continue.
I share my story and experiences as a way of encouraging others to do the same, but you can find a path that suits your needs.
The next time somebody tells you to “man up”, remember mental health affects us all regardless of gender so do not feel like being a man (or the perception of what it means to be a “man”) is a barrier to finding the path to a healthier, happier you.
Read about stigma
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Visit our information pages to find out more.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.