My legs were shaking, palms sweltering, head banging and I knew what was coming. Stood there, in the middle of the shopping centre, I was having an anxiety attack. Again. Quick, run to the bathroom and nobody will even notice you…but I couldn’t; my legs didn’t want to move. Sweat dripped down my forehead and people began to stare. ‘What’s wrong with that man, mum?’, ‘Stay away from him’, ‘what a weirdo’, ‘haha loser!’
Eventually, I made it back to my flat. I locked my door and it was over. I didn’t need to think, talk or scrutinise it. Just forget it, I said.
How many people go through this every day? 15 million.
How many of those receive frequent treatment? 5 million.
It seems something isn’t quite right.
However, in many ways, the very notion of ‘mental health’ has become a much more widely acceptable topic of conversation over the dinner table than it once was. Adored celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Ellen DeGeneres have openly spoken about their experiences of living with mental health issues, and it seems us non-famous civilians benefit from that, with more people than ever coming forward for professional help and charities such as ‘Mind’ generating huge donations.
Advances in care and self -help, development of anti-psychotic drugs and emphasis in human rights over the last 50 years has helped to account for the rapid increase in those reaching out for support.
However, most of these people (1 in 4 of us in the UK) are women. That isn’t to say more women have mental health problems than men – just that more women acknowledge it. Think about it: when was the last time that group of guys you know from the gym sat down in their kitchen and talked about how they felt?
It doesn’t have to be inviting your male friends to watch The Notebook and “really talk about our feelings” – it could be a simple conversation with your friend in which you say you feel sad, anxious, stressed or scared.
13 men take their lives every day in the UK, and men aged 20-49 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause of death. More and more people will know someone who sadly felt they had no choice but to take their own life- maybe your neighbour, the barista from your favourite coffee shop, your GP, your dad.
Last year, suicide among men reached its highest levels since the early Eighties. Somehow, 75 per cent of people who take their own lives have never been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
Stars such as Robin Williams, Alexander McQueen and Tony Scott, some of the most influential men in their fields, were all sufferers of common mental health problems and as you know, all tragically died within the last ten years from such intense anguish.
Without putting the entire male population in a box and saying ‘you’re all the same!’ it’s commonly known that men don’t like to talk, at least not about their emotions. Is this the reason so many men combat their problems alone and ostracized?
Men often subvert their feelings or even turn them into a ‘manly’ emotion such as illusiveness or aggression. Some perhaps don’t even know what exactly it is they’re feeling, and feel no desire or need to mention it.
Perhaps we as society are the ones to blame. Phrases like ‘man up!’ and ‘grow a pair’ are habitually thrown around and used in our everyday language, only widening the gap between men and women and, by extension, masculinity and femininity.
We usually connote mental health with females: eating disorders, for example, aren’t considered to be a ‘boy’s disease’. But don’t boys suffer from the stupendous pressure to look a certain way? Like one of those toned, olive skinned Calvin Klein models?
It seems we have created an entire Western pop culture out of the very distinction between male vs female ability to ‘chat’. Popular shows such as Sex and the City, Loose Women and Desperate Housewives all stereotype the typical woman to be capable of using infinite words, facial expressions and body language.
An abundance of reasons can account for someone’s mental health problem. Childhood trauma, neurotransmitter imbalance and brain damage are just some of the examples as to why so many of us suffer from illnesses.
Now it’s not to say that simply talking will miraculously cure, or even benefit, someone. However, a recent NHS study examining 1,511 patients found that cognitive behavioural therapy – a form of talking therapy – was just as effective as taking daily anti-depressants at improving mood and general well-being.
It seems that if men were encouraged to converse freely, stigma surrounding male mental health would surely diminish. Being able to talk is so critical in our everyday lives that it’s often taken for granted- a world without communication just simply cannot function. Well, you are the same. You are a little world that needs to speak, cry, laugh, shout, scream and sing.
If you, or someone you know, is affected my mental health issues, don’t go through it alone. Talk! To your neighbour, the barista from your favourite coffee shop, your GP, your dad.
Here’s a few who come in handy.
Anxiety UK: 08444 775 774
Mind: 0300 123 3393
No Panic: 0844 967 4848
Samaritans: 116 123
Men’s Health Forum: (+44) 020 7922 7908
Article by Megan Handley
Illustration by Imogen Whiteley