21 Sep My Men’s Mental Health Story
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with my mental health is undoubtedly the image of men needing to be stoic. Not only is it reinforced with men, but further reinforced by my culture. It took me many years to realise that bottling up emotions wasn’t healthy for me – a close friend of mine helped me make this realisation. They helped me realise that keeping things bottled up is like building pressure in a pot. If you release it while there is minimal pressure, it makes a much smaller sound compared to letting the pressure build up. I think I was blessed to have the right group of friends and support systems who are very open minded about these gender norms. I think it is important to surround yourself with people who have your best interest at heart, and this includes your mental wellbeing. I have never felt like I can’t discuss certain things, and I am truly grateful for that. If you don’t quite have anyone like that yet, don’t panic, these things take time, but when you find them, be sure to treasure such a privilege.
Mental health is not necessarily unique to men, but what is unique is the challenges surrounding how men deal with their emotions. While masculinity is often pinned as the cause, I think this grossly oversimplifies the issue. I believe you can use the concepts of masculinity in moderation to help men present earlier. For example, a part of masculinity is the desire to protect others. While this may lead to hiding your own struggle, we can also turn the perspective around. One could instead question how one could possibly do that if they themselves aren’t well. Reframing the ideals that men hold themselves to is a more productive cultural shift. Whether you are a man or a woman, we all have our unique hang-ups, and being empathetic and understanding will get us a long way.
My parents got divorced when I was quite young. My first instinct was to be very emotional for many months after it happened. After being told many times that “boys don’t cry” or to “be a better example for your sister” it was easier to become stoic. My dad worked a blue-collar job and struggled a lot with drinking, so I didn’t have a very good role model for how a man should deal with negative feelings. Furthermore, struggles with kids at school and changing high schools further compounded the feeling of isolation. I just didn’t have anyone to talk to – my sister was too young, dad was too drunk and mum was tired from work.
Two things helped me overcome this challenging part of my life. First of all, I changed my mindset. As dorky as it sounds, it was a quote that someone mentioned about poker that helped me the most: “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them.” I couldn’t change the situation I was in, but I could choose how I dealt with it. Secondly, I found someone who would listen to me. After changing to a new school, I had a student who was asked to show me around and help me get settled. At the end of my first day he said “I’m gonna head home, is there anything else I can help you with?”. And I just broke down, telling him how frustrated, sad and lonely I’d been lately. But he was great. He just sat there and listened, and at the end I apologized, and he said, “Don’t apologize, it sounds like you really need to let some stuff off your chest.” He shared his story with me and his struggles as well, and we bonded over our struggles.
Talk to someone, anyone who will listen. Verbalizing feelings can be such a huge load off. Keeping positive whenever you can and thinking about how you can grow from your challenges is a huge help in overcoming many obstacles. The best way to deal with a bad situation is to change it. One of the biggest things that has helped me is just remembering that “This too shall pass”. Talk about your feelings, challenges, and struggles, and remember that they do not define you, how you deal with them does.
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