Trigger warning: there is mention of suicide throughout this blog
Good mental health is an essential aspect of our overall well-being, yet it remains a topic shrouded in stigma and misconception. For many years, I battled anxiety and depression silently, constantly worried about how it would impact my work and personal life. There is not a specific time in my life when I can say that symptoms of anxiety and depression began, as I believe I have always had trauma in my life since a young age. However, the darkest part of my life has been over the past 15 years. I left my first wife, which meant losing contact with my children. Soon after, I got married for the second time, and we lost a baby while she was pregnant. Within a few months of that, I found out I had cancer. Thankfully, after a few years and undergoing treatment, I was given the all-clear. Later, I reconnected with my daughter from my first wife, and she gave birth to my first grandson, who died just five days later.
Fearing the judgment and potential repercussions, I hid my struggles behind a mask, sacrificing precious moments with my loved ones and my own happiness. In this blog, I aim to shed light on the stigma associated with mental health and emphasise the importance of seeking help and support.
Every day, I would return home from work drained, compelled to sleep away the exhaustion that anxiety and depression brought upon me. Weekends became an extended hibernation period, depriving me of precious time with my family. I missed my daughter's birthdays and Christmases, consumed by the weight of my inner turmoil. The fear of losing my job prevented me from seeking professional help, as I believed it would further jeopardise my already deteriorating mental state.
When I finally mustered the courage to visit a doctor, I was prescribed medication and put on a waiting list for additional support. Unfortunately, the support never materialised, leaving me feeling abandoned and further isolated. The impact of my mental health struggles extended to my relationship with my wife, who, overwhelmed by the challenges, asked me to leave. It was at this crucial juncture that I realised I needed to reach out for more help. Society often imposes rigid expectations on men, encouraging them to "grow up" or "man up" when it comes to mental health.
For many years, I did not want to admit that I had poor mental health. After a long time, I went to see the doctors and was given some pills, but they did not work. I took them for a long time. Then, I sought more support through counselling, but the waiting lists were long. I attended a 'Back to Work' group session, although I was already working. I thought it might help, but I cannot say whether it did or not. However, it triggered something in me that made me realise I needed to deal with this as I was drifting further away from my family. I wanted to be 'normal,' I wanted to be happy, and I wanted to enjoy family life. That desire was the start of my journey towards getting better.
However, I didn't know what to do or how to do it. I went to the doctors, and they gave me more pills and put me on more waiting lists. I paid for counselling, and that was the start of my recovery. I learned to talk about how I was feeling. My counsellor didn't have the answer to how to get better because the answer was within me. I decided to live on my own for a few years, and this pushed me to the edge. After going to hospital to seek support, I decided no more pills, no darker places. I was going to change. I haven't taken a pill since, and now I feel like I have control over my mental health. I have done this with my mindset.
There exists a harmful stigma that portrays it as weak or shameful for men to acknowledge their struggles and ask for help. This stereotype only serves to perpetuate the silence surrounding mental health and prevents many from seeking the support they desperately need. The truth is that it is perfectly okay to ask for help and admit that you are struggling. It takes strength and courage to confront your mental health challenges head-on.
By breaking free from the chains of stigma, you open yourself up to the possibility of healing and growth. It is vital to remember that you are not alone in your journey, there are resources and support networks available to aid you. Employers have a crucial role to play in fostering a supportive work environment for individuals struggling with mental health issues. Promote open communication: Encourage a culture of open and honest communication where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns without fear of stigma or judgment. This can be done through regular check-ins, confidential channels for sharing concerns, and promoting mental health awareness campaigns. Avoiding overwork and burnout can have a positive impact on employees' mental well-being. Encourage teamwork, collaboration, and positive relationships among colleagues. Provide training programs on mental health awareness and create spaces for open discussions.
Unfortunately, when I reached out to my workplace, no adjustments were made to accommodate my needs. This lack of understanding and empathy only exacerbated my challenges. Employers must recognise the importance of mental well-being and proactively offer resources, flexible work arrangements, and open communication channels to ensure their employees' holistic health.
Challenging the stigma surrounding mental health is a collective responsibility. It is imperative that we encourage open conversations, educate ourselves and others, and create safe spaces for individuals to seek help. Remember, it is more than okay to acknowledge your struggles, ask for help, and prioritize your mental well-being.
In my workplace, I actively promote good well-being and mental health. I have taken on the role of a director for a well-being group called Lads and Dads, where our focus is on walking, talking, and supporting one another. Leading walks and engaging in conversations with people allows them open up, share our struggles, and provide support. Gone are the days when I would hide my own mental health challenges. Now, I openly share my experiences to help others.