For the majority of my adult life, I didn’t consider mental health to be a priority. It wasn’t even an afterthought, it was something that rarely entered my mind.
I had little conception of what a mental illness entailed, which meant I would have had no way of spotting the early signs if I had given the issue some thought.
Throughout my youth, I had always been prone to worrying. One of the earliest examples of this I remember is going to the cinema to watch Toy Story 2.
Once we were seated and the doors were shut by the attendants, thoughts started racing through my mind about the doors being locked with everyone inside trapped and unable to escape.
To this day, I have no idea why these thoughts came to mind, just that they did. There was no basis for me to think this way, there was no previous incident that influenced my thinking.
It was just a thought that popped into my brain at that time. As we went back to the cinema in the following years, the thought would occur again on occasion. There was no reason for this and once the film and my catastrophic thinking did not come to pass, I carried on as normal.
Years later, when I was living in Barcelona, I had a panic attack which led me to go to the hospital in the belief I was having a heart attack. These attacks persisted for 6 months and during that time my mental health deteriorated, as I was unable to cope with what was going on.
From thinking mental health was a topic that didn’t require much attention, it suddenly had all of my attention.
I feel part of this is down to the fact that I am a man, and I was brought up by a father who is stoic as well as old-fashioned. I saw how he handled situations and thought I could do the same, even though I am a different person and I have no access to his thoughts.
From this base, my ambivalence towards mental health grew until reality hit me square in the face in Barcelona. As men, we are often reluctant to talk about our emotions and feelings as if we are above such discussion.
But we aren’t.
We are human, and we have negative thoughts, just because we are men, does not mean we have to suffer in silence. It’s important we remember that we can and should talk about the issues going on in our head, otherwise, they could end up destroying our lives.
Your Body Is Nothing Without Your Mind
Throughout my early adult life, I prided myself on my physical fitness. I would spend hours playing sports, lifting weights in the room and riding my bike around the country lanes of my hometown.
Making sure my body was in tip-top condition was important to me. The thought of being out of shape or seeing my body go to waste was terrifying.
While I was spending all this time fixating on my physical wellbeing, there was little regard for my mental wellbeing. Not once did I stop to think that I might be feeling down or anxious, I just carried on and attributed these thoughts to mental illness.
This is a trend that I see with a lot of men, we are more likely to consider our physical wellbeing before we consider our mental one. I feel a lot of this comes to the pride we take in our physical ability.
It’s a remnant from the past that still lingers in the present consciousness. Yes, it’s important to keep your body in shape, but a man’s value is not solely typed in his physical appearance and abilities.
A healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind. If we do not look after one the other will suffer for it. For generations, men have been brought up to be strong, to be resilient in the face of all challenges and to be a rock for the family.
This places a lot of pressure and strain on men. In today’s age with more equality between the sexes than ever, it is not realistic to look the dynamic this way.
Things have evolved and so should we too. Yes, it is important to face adversity head-on, step out of your comfort zone and meet challenges, but that should not be at the detriment of your mental health.
We need to realise that it is ok for men to talk about their feelings, it’s ok to discuss issues and problems, we are not lesser men for having any of these, we are simply human after all.
It’s Time To Open Up
After I had my panic attack, I tried to rationalise how I had come to have one. I had never had a panic attack before, so why was I having one all of a sudden at the age of 27?
What I realised was that I had been bottling up emotions inside of me, and the panic attack was the result when all of this came out. As I looked back, I realised I had been miserable for a while, and I just hadn’t realised it.
I’m sure if I had confided in someone about how I felt, the panic attack may have been avoided. Maybe it wouldn’t, maybe it was a good thing it happened, as it opened my eyes to the importance of mental health.
For too long I had glossed over its importance, and at that moment I realised just how important it was. It was a lesson 27 years in the making, but one that I am glad I had.
It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 10 men suffer experience depression and anxiety. While this may not seem like a lot, the number is likely higher to stereotypes about masculinity which discourages some men from revealing that they are suffering from these issues.
While it may seem manly and stoic to suffer in silence and solitude, the reality is much different. No man is an island, over time these thoughts and feelings will overwhelm and consume you.
It’s natural to want to talk about these issues, misguided ideas about masculinity and stigmatising mental health do nothing to resolve these problems and will likely exacerbate them.
In an age where information is readily available and the world is changing at an ever-increasing pace, it’s important that we as men, begin to open up about how we are feeling for our own good and the good of those around us.
Remember, it is not only us that our inaction effects, but it is also our loved ones too. For their sake and our own, it’s time we began to open up and acknowledge the importance of mental health rather than shunting it aside.
I wish I had realised this sooner, and sure many more of you do too.