To celebrate Men's Health Month this June, volunteer Rob dives into the world of male mental health and how Planned Parenthood can help.
Robin Williams. Tim Bergling (Avicii). Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Courtney Jamal Dewar Jr. (Capital STEEZ). Rylan Haglan. Tyler Clementi. Rodney Hulin. Anthony Bourdain. You’ve probably already figured it out already, but in case you haven’t, I’ll clue you in; this group of individuals has two things in common. Firstly, while they are various ages, races, and sexualities, they are all men. Second, they all committed suicide. In a country where nearly a third of all men have suffered from a period of depression in their lives and where the suicide rate for men is roughly four times higher than the rate for women, it is clear we have a male mental health crisis of catastrophic proportions. When it comes to access to comprehensive health care and information, it shouldn’t matter who you are and where you live. So, what do we do about it?
Well, first, we, and by “we” I mean men, have to be willing to speak openly about our own struggles with mental health. Talk therapy, otherwise known as psychotherapy, has been proven to be an effective tool for addressing depression. Moreover, even just opening up to loved ones, whether family members like parents or close friends, is therapeutic. Having an opportunity to talk about one’s anxieties and fears, to unburden oneself and be supported by those close to you, can be incredibly freeing. But, that can be difficult for many men. “Don’t be a weakling…you can handle this…you don’t need to see a damned shrink…talking won’t help…nobody cares…don’t be a burden” and many similar refrains echo through the minds of thousands of men on a daily basis. I should know, because some of those refrains, especially the second and final ones, reverberated through my head for many years and, unfortunately, still do. So, since I gotta walk it like I talk it, I’m gonna tell you all about my struggles with mental wellness, and I how I came to be the person writing this little think-piece here to you all.
I would trace my struggles with depression and anxiety back to my junior year of college, although the seeds of some of my personal issues had been planted years prior. I was a busy junior, juggling a variety of extracurricular activities with schoolwork and a social life, not to mention sleep. I had been able to adequately manage my various responsibilities up until junior year so, even though I was assuming some serious leadership positions in several clubs and committees and taking higher-level classes across the board, I figured I could handle everything. Alas, I figured incorrectly, mainly due to my chronic inability to say no. If there was a committee that needed an extra person, an event that could use an extra hand for planning, or even just a dope party that was happening, I could be counted on to be a part of it. It was the same thing among friends as well; if someone needed some advice or a shoulder to cry on, I was your man. I liked being there for people; being helpful made me feel useful, needed even. However, as I was giving so much to anyone and everyone, I was not making enough time for myself, and it began to show. At first, I was still able to still handle my academics and get enough hours of sleep each night. As time went on, however, this ceased to be the case, and so I was forced to make sacrifices; now, the healthy thing would have been to cut back on my extracurricular commitments and engage in better time management. Sadly, I did the unhealthy thing, and decided that sleep wasn’t really as important as it was cracked up to be (“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” was a mantra of mine). By snagging naps where I could and relying on the mythical powers of caffeine, I was able to sustain myself for a while longer, but it was not meant to last.
Come senior year, things started to come crashing down for me. Where before I had consistently excelled in academics, I was now just getting by. Submitting assignments late, studying less for exams, and even sometimes skipping class, of all things. Meanwhile, in my extracurriculars, I had also lost my edge, arriving late to meetings whereas before I had been timely, and cutting corners when it came to planning events, oftentimes letting others pick up my slack. All the while, people, from professors to close friends, began to notice my deterioration, and attempted to reach out to me. Helpful texts, concerned emails, and invitations to just go for a walk and chat were plentiful, but I was adept at deflecting or otherwise ignoring their attempts to aid me. Indeed, over time, the notion of even acknowledging a professor’s email or responding to a friend’s text felt draining. Where once everything had seemed to easy, it all felt so mentally taxing. In the end, I suffered, academically and personally, harming a number of relationships.
So, how did I end up being in a place where I felt confident enough to not only write about my own experiences with poor mental health, but speak on the issue of male mental health at large? Well folks, after hitting rock bottom, there really isn’t any place to go to but up. I began exercising, which has been shown to be a useful means of stimulating one’s mental health, and I worked towards engaging in regular self-care (specific activities or practices which alleviate stress in a constructive manner aka not partying), namely through getting back into writing. But, most importantly, I started opening up to friends and family. I took a leap and had frank conversations with them about my feelings of exhaustion; how I had overburdened myself and didn’t know how to unburden myself. I was afraid they would distant themselves from me, not wanting to contend with my issues. Unsurprisingly, in hindsight, not one of them turned from me. Why did they stick by me, you ask? Because, for all my fear of rejection and burdening them, they didn’t see me as a burden, but as a loved one who needed help, and they did indeed help.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say I’m “cured” or anything like that. That’s not how mental health works; I still have days where all I want to do is ignore all my texts and emails and just nap. Hell, I do have days where I ignore my texts and emails; I have still closed myself off to my friends and family at times. Truth be told, it is a daily challenge. But I’m not drowning anymore, and I feel comfortable talking about my issues. In fact, in opening up about my struggles, I hope, perhaps naively, that other men feel empowered to start to talk about their own struggles. I’m not saying you all need to start blogs; all it takes is one conversation with one loved one where you talk about your feelings-what has been making you lose sleep at night, quite literally-to get you started down the road to mental wellness. What’s that, you don’t feel comfortable speaking with family or friends just yet? No problem! Therapists are trained to be an objective set of ears to help you contend with your personal struggles, and can help you craft detailed plans to improve your mental health. Can’t afford therapy and don’t want to talk to friends or family? No issue! There are a variety of communities online where you can talk with other people going through the same thing as you friend. Strength in numbers right?
Finally, don’t forget to take care of your physical health as well, gentlemen. This plays a very large role in your overall health; adverse physical ailments, but especially chronic health conditions, have been shown to have negative impacts on your mind as well as your body. To that end, Planned Parenthood is a great health care provider that offers male services. Whether you have a specific health concern or just need a routine exam, men can come to Planned Parenthood for reproductive services, sexual health services, cancer screenings, and general health care. They provide referrals for additional care as well. Better safe than sorry folks!
At bottom, my fellow men, I can’t stand the thought of one of us feeling so hopelessly alone that they believe suicide is their only option at escaping pain. So guys, please, talk to someone, because if you do, things will get better. I promise.
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