Man to man advice on men’s mental health by Brian Ballantyne
I was talking to another man this week, and we got onto the subject of mental health. I said that I was comfortable talking about mental health, and he commented that it was interesting that we often give this pre-warning when we are about to discuss the topic. It does feel to me though that not everyone is OK with talking openly about mental health; it’s like dazzling people with full-beam headlights, and I suppose that’s why I check with the other person before diving in. So let’s dive in?
Mental health is something that I care about deeply and personally. My first mother experienced manic (or bi-polar) depression. She felt that the world would be better off without her, and so she decided to take her own life. As a six-year-old, waking up on Christmas Eve to hear from my Dad that my Mum was no longer in pain, but no longer here, I imagine that I felt not only heart-broken, but also rejected and in some way at fault, or helpless that I hadn’t been able to make her life better.
When we lose someone to suicide, or to dark depression, I think we do feel helpless; perhaps even angry that the person never told us anything was wrong. Or that we hadn’t seen the warning signs, or known what to do. We might feel frustrated that it’s not as simple as taking antibiotics or pills, or performing surgery, and that simply willing the person to “snap out of it” isn’t going to help them. We can’t just go to the First Aid box; even the biggest Band-Aid isn’t enough to repair depression.
I have heard the expression “it’s just in their head” to sweep aside complex psychological problems; yet the human brain is one of the most powerful super-computers on earth, and we all know that understanding and resolving bugs in software isn’t as simple as banging it on the side of the box. A computer isn’t afraid to admit its own vulnerabilities, or let us know when it needs to recharge. Yet as humans, and particularly amongst men, it can be unthinkable to admit weakness or ask for help.
Perhaps we are afraid. Maybe as men we think that mental health and depression is contagious in some way; that even associating with people who are feeling down, acknowledging that there is an issue they are experiencing, will bring down the ceiling on our own stable worlds. “It’ll be alright, chin up mate” might feel easier to say than “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” but ignoring a problem doesn’t solve it. We know that you can’t paper over rising damp, you have to do a damp-proof course. Yet we are prepared to gloss over mental health issues that we can see if we look.
So, it’s like the Green Cross Code Man said, when he once came to our primary school in Newcastle.
Stop, Look and Listen.
Stop, wait a second, are any of your friends, colleagues or family members acting differently than they used to?
Look, for any changes in the way they present themselves; in their physical appearance and also if they are posting anything unusual on social media.
Listen, hear them out, ask them if they are OK, suggest going for a walk or a game of pool.
Maybe for just a few minutes they will feel safe to open up about what they are feeling, and reassure them it’s ok to talk.
I’m not an expert on mental health, but there are a lot of experts out there and online who can help. My hope is just that more of us can role model that it is OK not to feel OK, and it’s OK to admit that. What I find is that when I’ve been able to talk things through, even to feel that I’ve burned through my negative emotions down to ash, and to be OK with that darkness, then new lights start to glow. Keep an eye on your friends, but also keep an eye on yourself. As men we like to say “it’s nothing” about any kind of health worry. But there’s no harm in getting support, just in case it is something.
Helping your male employees look after their physical and mental wellbeing will benefit your business by ensuring they are ready to be their best at work. Parental Choice has an extensive programme of talks and seminars designed to look after your employees mentalhealth.
Included are a number of talks aimed at men in general and some specifically to help workingdad's survive parenthood challenges.
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Thanks go to Brian Ballantyne for the article.
Brian is a husband to Kate, and father to Gabriel (12) and Daniel (10). As a long-time advocate for women’s rights, he felt it was high time “working fathers” had space to talk about their experiences; which led him to start blogging #confessionsofaworkingfather on his LinkedIn Profile, which is now available as a book on Amazon (all proceeds are donated to Winston’s Wish, a UK charity for bereaved children).