The M-E-N in Mental Illness

The billboard read, “This year, thousands of men will die of stubbornness.” I felt my body tense in response as the church lady on the pew of my soul nodded her head and hummed an “amen” with a hand on her heart. It is true: we, men, are a stubborn breed.

Of course, gender generalizations are the enemy of the age so I’ll note that not all men are in fact dying of stubbornness. If you are not the stubborn-dude type, I sincerely apologize. Either way, it’s not hard to imagine the old geezer refusing to go to the doctor months on end nor the young guy who believes himself to be immortal. Myself, I have a reputation at the dentist’s office for rescheduling every appointment at the last minute (I swear I can hear their disappointment over the phone). It’s easy to wish away symptoms by ignoring them but it’s not working especially when it comes to mental illness. Typically, men are either too stubborn to get help or just plain unaware of the mental health issues in their lives; I know I was both. Before I get into my story, here are six facts about mental illness:

  1. “Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44.” (Reference)
  2. Symptoms of depression in men include feeling sad, hopeless, irritable, anxious, or angry; loss of interest in work, family, once-pleasurable activities; tiredness; not sleeping well; over or under eating; thoughts of suicide; physical problems; and the list goes on. (Reference)
  3. Depression can be caused by genetics, brain chemistry/hormones, and/or stress. (Reference)
  4. “Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.” (Reference)
  5. “White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.” (Reference)
  6. “The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.” (Reference)

A Slice Of My Story

It wasn’t until I read a book about anxiety in 2010 that I recognized I dealt with mental health issues. I was amazed by how much I related to almost everything in the book. I continued reading blogs, articles, and other books, and every one I picked up seemed to confirm for me that I dealt with anxiety despite appearing somewhat confident, social, and successful from an outside perspective. I got overwhelmed easily; I was irritable, insecure, frantic; I often felt trapped, unable to talk to people or go places but staying home would have me bubbling with worry.

As I familiarized myself with mental illness, I realized I could trace signs and symptoms of my anxiety back to an early age. The seed was planted and it started to grow as the roots of mental illness twisted themselves into my life. I lived on until 25, allowing the limbs to slowly but surely take over my entire being. Suddenly, I found myself immobilized like a man at the stake. And I was imploding.

But a man is not supposed to have mental health issues, right? So I stayed quiet about it, excusing my behavior by using more manageable titles. I mislabeled anxiety with the words like stress, frustration, over-emotional, overwhelmed, or my personality. Because I did this, I found myself unaware of and ill-equipped to manage deeper issues. I concluded only a year ago that I even mislabeled depression under the alias of anxiety. I was depressed and had been for a while. It wasn’t until I called anxiety, anxiety and depression, depression that I reached out for help.

It took me too long to identify these issues; too long to talk to friends and family; too long to see a counselor; and too long to see a doctor. I wish I could have identified them sooner. Perhaps I could have held on to friendships, stuck with a job, and not fallen into the pit of isolation, insecurity, and despair.

So What Now?

As a depressed man who has done a lot of homework, I have gleaned much wisdom and many tips from the internet. Of course, I still hear teachers of education past spout ghostly warnings of Wikipedia. But Wiki and all, the internet has been a helpful resource. I have found websites, blogs, videos, apps, and interactive programs to aid in the entanglement of mental illness. They are no cure-all but they are a step toward greater proactivity in mental health and wellness.

As a guy, I have found that resources geared towards men have been especially helpful and comforting to me. It’s refreshing to hear the stories of other guys in a similar position. And though I deeply and genuinely appreciate and apply the wisdom from many stay-at-home moms and depressed female bloggers, I have a whispering anxiety that I am oppressed by a female issue as if mental illness were comparable to menstrual cycles. It’s not exclusively a female problem; it’s a human problem and that includes men.

Why do resources seem to lack for men with depression and anxiety? It is obviously a prevalent issue if 7 out of 10 suicides are male. My anxiety tells me that I am alone in the fight and that most men don’t struggle with these issues; they’re too masculine, confident, put-together. But I know that’s not true. We lack resources for men because men are less likely to talk about these things, whether by the water cooler at work, at the dinner table, or on internet blogs. Men tend to swallow their struggles, feelings, and emotions hoping they can keep it all down. But more often than not, we can’t and eventually after endlessly internalizing, we implode. We become tangled in the roots of despair.

Life is tough. Stressors all over can make things overwhelmingly difficult and men aren’t immune. I’m confident that there are guys out there like me; depressed and anxious; maybe mislabeling, masking, misunderstanding; or just overly internal and obsessively introspective. But we cannot keep imploding; we need to untangle ourselves. We need to talk and we can’t afford to be stubborn about it. By opening up the dialogue in our circles and on the web, we increase the okayness of the struggle. We help men and growing boys to identify their struggle, explore appropriate resources, and just help a brother out.

So let’s talk.

By starting this blog, I want to join the slowly rising voice for depressed men on the internet as well as for those who desire a clearer understanding of the difficult issue. I hope that by sharing my personal struggles and learnings, I can be a comfort and resource to the quietly hurting as others have been for me. I’m no pro nor the only voice. I’m a man who is depressed writing for men who are depressed and anyone else who would like to read.

What’s a slice of your story? Tweet me @DaddingDepressd or comment below!

4 thoughts on “The M-E-N in Mental Illness

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