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Let’s talk about depression

Should mental health ruin lives? Studies reveal on a continuous day to day basis that depression rates have climbed. Our generation is engulfed with mental health concerns and more of us are medicated than ever before.

A hospital study revealed that in their lifetime 1 in 5 women are diagnosed with some form of mental illness whereas 1 in 8 men are diagnosed. These statistics would suggest that women are the greatest sufferers of mental health issues. However, it may not be as clear cut as that. A compilation of data compiled by the Men’s Health Forum in 2014 suggests that a staggering 4 in every 5 suicides is a male.

When 78% of suicides are a given gender it has to raise the question as to why so many more men are choosing to end their lives as opposed to women. The truth behind the statistics could be attributed to men choosing not to talk about depression. Depression is something of a taboo subject, to admit you are suffering with it is to expose the workings of your brain as ‘faulty’. When suffering with any form of mental illness it is not uncommon to observe other people and idolize their clearer path of thinking. Simply put, for some, admitting you have a mental illness is highlighting a weakness.

I’m aware that is quite a brass claim to make and I am also aware that every mental health case is different but that is certainly how I have viewed my own shortcomings in the past. The fact of the matter is that depression can be attributed to a whole variety of different mental illnesses. It comes in many shapes and forms and is prevalent in mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder. With only 1 in 8 men being diagnosed with some form of mental illness in their lifetime and the male suicide rate being so high it certainly raises the question of how many of us are going undiagnosed?

With suicide rates soaring questions could certainly be asked of the mental health services and the Guardian quoted that of those that need help only 15% are receiving the treatment they need. The NHS are of course governed by budget and with so many cases of depression it’s not hard to understand why some would prefer not to talk to doctors or mental health experts. Talking therapies are proven to help but to seek that kind of help the problem needs to be acknowledged in the first place which leads me on to my next point…

The problem with male depression in particular is I think too many of us don’t want to talk about it… Many males have a predetermined concept of how they should behave and in a lot of cases this can stem from childhood. In past generations, there was a big emphasis on a stiff upper lip and I’d say that is still prevalent even today. I remember as a young child there was a massive stigma around showing emotion in front of class mates. I’ll use a hypothetical situation to explain my point. Let’s say you were being bullied and one of the children involved punched you in the face, to cry and let out the emotion would be worthy of further bullying and an act of complete weakness. In this situation, you would wait until you got home and once behind closed doors you could cry until the tears run dry.

I can only speak from my own perspective but I feel my school life, both primary and secondary, conditioned me into a state of belief that expressing feelings or showing emotion was putting my head on the block and waiting for the blade to drop. When our school life exhibits behaviour that is reminiscent of some sort of pageantry of vanity and the stakes for social belonging are so high we have to learn to present ourselves in a certain way. Bullying is just as ubiquitous now as it was 10 years ago and bullies prey on weakness. The way we treat each other is perhaps a detrimental reason as to why we mask our emotion.

In my adult life, I can only think of maybe two or three times I have cried in front of someone and I have probably seen 10 times more women cry than I have males. This is not to say women are weak, not at all, that is not the point I am trying to make… it’s simply stating that women seem to be more comfortable in terms of showing emotion. As a general consensus, it would appear males are less comfortable in this area.

Personally, I’d also argue some people are afraid to admit they’re dealing with depression because they don’t know if their case warrants the title. It’s similar to how we may view a headache. If you’ve been staring at a screen all day long the eye strain may cause a sensation over the top of your eyes and you may describe this as a mild headache. On the other hand, you could be completely bed bound and unable to look at any natural daylight… you’d describe this as a severe headache or migraine. If you are someone who experiences the latter you may be inclined to view the former as trivial. I feel this theory translates quite well into depression because I can imagine that those feeling the lesser symptoms of depression may feel them being vocal about their own shortcomings pales in comparison to someone who is suffering more.

What is depression? What does warrant that title? It’s perhaps a question there isn’t an answer to because symptoms vary greatly dependent on the person. I define depression as overwhelming self-loathing, a lack of motivation and appetite, isolation and a disconnection from reality but that doesn’t mean I am right, nor does it mean that someone suffering with lesser symptoms is not depressed. It’s all a matter of perception though I would certainly argue there is a distinct difference from general sadness and depression.

The dated stigma associated with burdening others with your problems may also play a role in the lack of communication in males. Regardless of how we excuse this miscommunication the fact still remains, depression is a prevalent problem for males.  If there is an underlined issue with male depression I feel we need to be equipped to deal with it and know what to look out for. The suicide of Robin Williams in 2014 shocked the world because how could our beloved comic relief and witty television comedian even contemplate such an act. Williams was an entertainer and on the basis of his TV presence he was a happy and hilarious comedian with everything to live for. His death flipped the script to some extent because it highlighted just how difficult it can be to see the signs of depression.

A popular viral video by Kat Napiorkowska states: “You get used to putting on a social mask and you continue to live among other people because that’s what you have to do, that’s what others do.” Her point touches on the conformity battle many of us face to ‘be like everyone else’. A friend of mine once said to me “You can’t be depressed, you’re too happy and you’re always trying to be funny” but the reality of the situation is that depression can affect anyone, whether we choose to mask it or not is completely dependent on the individual.

Going forward I feel we, as men, need to open up more and dispel this ‘bravado’ that many of us carry around. I am not suggesting becoming an open book and telling the world your problems because that will rarely do much but give detractors ammunition to use against you. What I am proposing is find the one or two people that you can be completely open with. No one should have to battle their demons alone and there is always someone who will listen. Never be ashamed to hide away from who you are or what you’re feeling. Depression is more prevalent than we think and we can perhaps take comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone in that.

I speak from the perspective of someone who has a good support network but at the same time there are people out there who are less fortunate in that department. I feel the thing to understand is no two people are the same. The brain works in intricate ways and it can often be difficult to sympathise with what someone is going through. But even to the most alone person there is always someone you can call and confide in, a professional who won’t exert judgement and though they may not know what you’re going through, they can exercise an empathetic mind. From my own personal experience talking can make a world of difference but that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. There are a multitude of different outlets for combatting depression and there is a plethora of information available detailing the different supports.

I will conclude this piece by disclaiming that I do not claim to be any sort of expert on depression, far from it. I speak only from my own perspective and my own dealings with depression and things that have helped and continue to help me. With it being Mental Health Awareness week I particularly wanted to talk on this topic because it’s something I hold very dear to my heart. Thank you for reading.

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