Editor's note: Today is R U OK? Day. In reality, however, that question should be asked every day. The following article contains mentions of mental illness and suicide. Remember, there's always someone who wants to help, reach out here.
I've had two friends commit suicide due to clinical depression. I have a father who is actively suppressing his untreated bipolar disorder. And I myself have grappled with clinical depression for the last six odd years, seldom acknowledged outside of the rare "episode". I apologise for being blunt, but...
This is how the lack of open conversation about mental health for males has plagued my life and killed my friends.
I understand there are countless others who have it a hell of a lot worse than me.
I understand that what I write may escape the scope of your sympathies/empathies.
Even now, I feel apologetic and somewhat guilty about taking up real estate in a stranger's day.
I'm not looking for your pity.
I'm not looking for your adoration.
And I'm certainly not looking for a convoluted way to glorify being "broken" subsequently exploiting the idea of being "broken" to accumulate some self-satisfied form of social currency - a disturbingly common trend in the online space these days.
All I've ever wanted is a little understanding.
Because somewhere out there is a confused and lonely kid going through exactly what I did.
And if I can make it a little easier for that one kid, then its all been worth it.
I'd like to tell you all about Friend A and Friend B. The details that made them unique. The nuances of their personality. The hopes and dreams that fueled them. Through the eyes of an illness like depression, none of that matters. Because with depression, any one of us could be Friend A and Friend B.
Depression doesn't care about what makes you unique.
Depression doesn't care about the nuances of your personality.
Depression certainly doesn't care about your hopes and dreams.
And that's the biggest tragedy of it all. Individuals can eventually become another faceless addition to an indistinguishable mass. Worse still, individuals can eventually become another statistic in an annual report. The rate? One in three men. One in three men will experience a period of depression sometime in their lifetime.
So if depression alone is that common, why aren't we better at talking about it?
I suppose being raised by immigrant parents who were directly moulded by a culture determined to muscle through their internal struggles and disregard the legitimacy of psychological problems to the point it quite literally killed them didn't exactly help. My old man, for one, thought that taking a minute to ask himself how he felt was a frivolous luxury. Something that would soon translate inter-generationally.
A defining moment for this sentiment occurred after the sudden and unforeseen loss of a friend during high school. This was a pivotal event which pierced me to my very core. Previous to this, the idea of someone in my immediate life committing suicide seemed so far removed from my reality. Especially at that age.
When my father found out I wanted to attend the funeral, he locked the two of us in a room and lectured me on how suicide was the most selfish act; how suicide was an immoral weakness to be stamped out by upstanding values (you should have seen the burning contempt in his eyes); and how depression was a filthy contagion to be combated by "being a happy boy" and generic positivity. Sure enough, after some four hours of refusing to let me leave, I caved. An ultimatum was handed, and I stood powerless as we all did in our youth.
I didn't go to the funeral.
Now, this anecdote is a perfect example of the mentality informing the devastatingly prevalent approach men take with mental health.
It's a weakness.
Don't look it in the eye.
Just get over it.
I hated my father for how he forced my hand. And yeah, there are some residual feelings lingering about in present day. But a few years later, word got out he was bipolar. No, I didn't hear it from him directly. I had to learn this vital detail from other family members. It was only then that I began to understand his rhythm. He actively chose to suppress it and refused to treat it any further beyond a diagnosis. The very same cognitive cycles were appearing like before.
It's a weakness.
Don't look it in the eye.
Just get over it.
Despite all that I have articulated, I myself am at no greater advantage. Even when I suspected I was missing the conventional architecture for joy, I remained silent until it almost killed me through the unhealthy practice of self-medication.
These cognitive cycles are essentially universal throughout the male race. My old man, Friend A and Friend B, blokes the world over, even me... Somewhere down the line, we all started confusing the recognition of mental health issues with being the opposite of masculine. The notion itself sounds ridiculous when spelt out in units of words and sentences, but it's so deeply threaded in the fabric of our collective emotional reflexes, we underestimate the extent of which it can and will dictate our tides.
A life pact...
It's high time we empower both ourselves and one another to beat this thing back. As a collective, we can improve the current landscape for all men grappling with their mental health by implementing these simple actions:
- stop ignoring the signs
- recognise there are indeed issues at hand
- recognise how common and acceptable the issues at hand are
- stop framing the conversation around mental health with negativity
- make an effort to provide individual support and support networks where convenient
- encourage men from all corners of the world to speak up, get help, and pursue the happiness they deserve
Remember, your life is yours by right. Don't let anything else take it away from you and never let it define you. Check on your friends, even the ones that seem pulled together. And speak up. No one will think any less of you. I guess when all is said and done, the one thing we all need to hear is that it's OK to not be OK.
You don't have to go through this alone.
If you or anyone you know is anxious, depressed, or considering self-harm or suicide, there are people who want to help. Reach out here or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Don't forget to check on your mates.