November is men’s health awareness month, so we at the CS Local Inclusion Network in the north west want to raise some awareness and talk about the benefits of supporting men to speak more openly about our feelings and wellbeing.
I was inspired to put this blog together by my Inclusion Network colleague Pete Miles from the Environment Agency. Like all of us in our network, Pete and I talk a lot about many things including his band and why he wears a kilt to play the drums. One of the things he's always spoken about very openly is depression. I've learned a lot from those conversations so I was delighted when he agreed to share his story with a wider audience.
I was widowed at 37 and suffered quite a long period of grief. I returned to the office and always said I was OK when people asked how I was, but people knew I was a bit of a mess and accepted it would take time. Even men are allowed to be emotional at such times. But admitting to myself that I wasn’t OK, couldn’t cope and needed to do something, was more difficult. Finally, I did that, and articulating this to my boss and being very open was welcomed with understanding, empathy and a willingness to move my workload and work pattern around to suit my needs at the time.
What was more difficult was the subsequent depression I suffered - and still do. I felt I should “get over it” at some point and return to who I was, but I didn’t.
Not going to the doctor despite feeling very down and “self-medicating” with alcohol didn’t help. I believed that either things would get better on their own, or I just had to get used to feeling this way, and that I needed to pull myself together. It was my “fault” and I was expected to stop moaning and get on with it. Asking for help was a weakness or failure or would be seen as just wallowing. After all, it was two years now, when was I going to sort myself out? When I finally went to the doctor I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed anti-depressants. It took a while to get the dose right but they made a huge difference to me and my quality of life. Telling those around me was hard though, it was an invisible illness and some people didn’t think there was anything wrong. At least that’s how I felt. But I explain it like a badly broken leg that mends but leaves you with a limp. I suffered a badly broken mind, and now have a mental limp. Getting used to being a different person is hard, but doable, and the first step is accepting you have a problem. Talking about it openly has helped me and now I try to encourage a better understanding of mental health at work for all of us, regardless of gender or anything else.
Despite the fact that one in eight men in the UK have experienced a mental health problem, recent figures from a YouGov survey show that men are much less likely to get the help they need for mental health issues than women. We're also less likely to talk about our mental health. We're encouraged to help change our culture so that all men and boys in the UK can feel more able to share their feelings and experiences. Talking about men's health will allow us to get the help we need earlier on, hopefully preventing some mental health problems as well as making sure the right support is given at the right time. If sharing stories like Pete's can help men and boys as well as everyone else to talk about their own feelings and experiences, that can only be a good thing. There's more information and support available on-line. Thanks Pete!