For part five in this series, my friend Gareth shares some thoughts about why the suicide rate is so high among men compared to women, how the macho culture literally can be deadly, and shares some of his own experience with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“If I can live through this, I can do anything”
Oh be a man.
Real men don’t cry.
These are all such throwaway phrases that people use in everyday life, probably without thinking about it. Yet sometimes, these can be a lot more damaging than you’d ever imagine. They might just be words, banter maybe, but being a guy with depression and anxiety is not easy – and perpetuation of these societal norms really do not help.
Men don’t want to reach out for help, because we’re sold on the ideals that we’re strong, we’re head of the family, head of the household, protector. We don’t get to be sad and scared. Thing is, it’s just not true. We’re just as human as everyone else – and this macho culture amongst us is literally killing us.
In the UK, over 3 out of 4 suicides are men. Yet women are 40% more likely to report mental health issues and seek help. Of course, the statistics can’t gather what people don’t report – so mental health support gets biased heavily towards females, because that’s where the professionals, understandably, see where the problem is.
However… spot the disparity. The stats say that the gender gap is only about 14% – whilst suicide rates have a 50% gender difference. This means that potentially, thousands and thousands of men with mental health issues are going unnoticed and undiagnosed, and in the end, they pay the ultimate price.
We’re men. Feelings are feminine, and we don’t have them. We should go out and fight bears with our bare hands. Must be strong. Must back up the family. Must be macho.
Thing is, we’re not cavemen any more. We’re not hunter gatherers. The last piece of meat you ate probably came from the supermarket or butcher around the corner, not from a wild animal that you had to catch to ensure the survival of your dependent family. We’re based in offices, drinking coffee at our desk. Stress impacts us in a different way, day to day pressures are different, even our work ethic is totally different – so why do we still hold onto these same caveman ideas?
This is a subject that sits with me deeply – as I’m a man with acute depression. It’s a daily battle in my head to fight off the stupid side of my brain that tells me I’m never going to make a good father, never going to be a role model, never going to be able to look after a family, never even going to look after a girlfriend or wife, because I can’t even look after myself properly. I should be the one that stands up tall and just gets on with it, rather than the one that ends up hiding away because I can’t. I should be the one that pushes to just get into work and make money for my family, rather than allowing myself a day off to recover from whatever was eating me up the day before.
We’re programmed to not talk about our problems – we “should” just know how to deal with them, and not burden others with them. Of course, that’s absolute crap – a problem shared can be a problem halved, but it’s so deeply ingrained into us that it’s not okay to do this that it means we don’t share these things, we don’t seek help and unfortunately, it means that when it ramps up and up, we end up crumbling under the pressure.
Trust me, I know this first hand. My worst day, I’d had a long day anyway and my head was a bit of a mess. I then got a really shitty email from someone at work, and it was the straw that broke me. I left the house, and walked for as long as I could in the drizzle, and walked on the path beside a railway line. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it home that day.
Yet I didn’t want to ask for help from professionals. I didn’t want to appear weak. I wanted people to think I could handle this on my own. Yet as I was proving, I really couldn’t.
This has got to be one of the scariest days in my life, I’ll be honest with you. I was completely in crisis, yet I felt physically unable to call someone, because my head told me that I needed to not. I needed to deal with my problems myself, rather than burdening someone else with them.
I made it back home that day, and my parents asked me if I was alright.
I told them I was fine.
Lives depend on us breaking this vicious cycle, and stopping us believing these things. We need to realise that it’s good to share problems, that we can open up and be vulnerable, and that we can drop this macho shit.
Peace and love.