Give & Take: The Positive Domino Effect Around Discussing Men's Mental Health
Mental health is an incredibly important topic that has become openly discussed in recent years. As June marks National Men’s Health month, now is a great time to spread awareness that men still typically suffer in silence.
Statistically speaking, 1 in every 5 men suffers from some form of an anxiety disorder; and to make matters worse, less than half of those afflicted with anxiety or depression seek treatment. Additionally, rather than therapy, men are more likely to drink as a coping mechanism; and aside from just drinking at a higher volume, they’re hospitalized at a much higher rate than women from relying on the substance.
I’ve suffered from some form – whether it’s been mild or severe – of anxiety since the beginning of high school. The problem was that nobody, not even my parents, would’ve have known about my issues had I not opened up in recent years. Throughout my high school and even college career, I was faking it til I made it, and not letting anyone glimpse how I felt on the inside. Everyone just assumed my role as the class clown meant that nothing ever bothered me—so much so that people would even say to me that they wish they were as composed and “go-with-the-flow” as I was. While I certainly should have been honest, at the time I was glad – and perhaps even proud – that I was able to successfully mask my real feelings.
While in the moment it seemed cool to have a fake persona throughout school, it led to even worse problems. My anxiety led me to develop a bad case of imposter syndrome once I began working in the PR world. Despite receiving consistently positive feedback as a junior PR pro, I saw any success as just a fluke—that the other shoe was going to drop, and that’d I be back to square one soon enough. I would also always assume one mistake would lead me to being fired, which created a cloud of dread that no one should ever have to perpetually experience.
I’m still anxious here and there, but would still be under that dark cloud if not for NBA players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan publicly announcing their mental health struggles during the middle of the 2018 season. At that time, I was falling into the trap of staying quiet because I had to “be a man.” So, when both players didn’t mince words about their dealings with panic attacks and depression, a flip switched inside me, and I realized nobody needs to suffer alone.
It took me a while to fully commit to therapy, but it taught me the importance of just being open and saying, “Yeah, I’m a little anxious this week, but I’m trying my best.” Furthermore, I’ve experienced first-hand the power of what sharing your story means to others. Like I said, you might not push someone into therapy the next day, but by just saying you’re struggling, you may help other men realize that they can be candid too—and ultimately help them find the resources they need to set them on a path to feeling better.
I spoke with my future mother-in-law who is also the former Director at a mental health agency, Kathleen Herndon, and she said, “While it may sound silly, you never know how many times somebody thinks, ‘Oh, if they’re struggling with their own mental health, my problems must be real too. I should do something about it.’”
Aside from sharing your story as a means to “giving back” and promoting mental health, other actions include:
Volunteering: Many mental health organizations go under the rug, just due to the fact when people think of the act of volunteering, they’re quick to think of soup kitchens or animal shelters. However, mental health agencies are always looking for volunteers – whether that’s running a substance abuse program, or simply being on hand to answer the phone and talk to someone looking for help. Additionally, volunteering can also positively impact the volunteer’s mental health, making this a win-win. According to Herndon, mental health organizations are always looking for short and long-term volunteers that can brighten someone’s day, either through group activities or just by listening.
Being an Advocate: Less of a direct time commitment than volunteering, being a mental health advocate simply means staying tuned in to how leading mental health organizations and the government are approaching legislation. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, organizations like the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) can help advocate for more resources and funding.
Being Open: It cannot be overstated how important it is for others to hear your own personal story around mental health struggles. While you don’t have to wear it on your sleeve every day, let others know that you’re there for them whenever they need a friend or someone to talk to. You can’t be their therapist, but having someone to listen to can take an enormous weight off our shoulders, and lead to an overall happier and healthier community.
As cliché as it sounds, anxiety and depression for the longest time seemed like an endless dark tunnel to me. But once I realized there’s a light switch and many more people like me in that same exact tunnel, I felt a lot better.