Men, have your say

This is a blog that I’ve wanted to write from the beginning but it’s hard to discuss especially when I myself am not a man and it is also hard to find men who want to express their feelings. I’ve waited for guys to come forward and share their stories or opinions but this topic still such a taboo even though it’s recently been bought more to light due to celebrity deaths, statements on TV and social media overall. According to Safeline “76% of suicides are committed by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 in the UK” (www.safeline.org.uk – worth a read!). In addition, in the UK, 12.5% of men suffer from common mental health disorders (mentshealthforum.org.uk, 2017). These are drastic statistics; so why has men’s mental health only recently come to light in the last few years?
Passed from generation to generation men have been told what their role in society is, how to feel, how to treat others, how to carry themselves but this has led to suppression and it becoming natural for women to be seen as the sensitive, insecure gender in comparison to men. This is not okay. Times are changing and we need to support each other and adapt to these changes. Mental health is a silent killer whether physically, mentally or emotionally and speaking openly about this is the first step to making an awareness.


Below are statements from brave men who wanted to come forward and share their experiences and opinions:

-“Men are solution-based animals, talking about our feelings rarely helps us resolve the traumas we are experiencing, we want a route to getting out of it. Men’s problems right now stem from a lack of a strong support network which provides us with opportunities to progress in the areas of our lives which we have neglected or are suffering”.

-“This blog is a good thing, honestly you need to try and get through to young kids. I’ve lost a few friends over the years and there’s no one to talk to. You don’t want to talk to family because they will worry and send you to live with your nan or something. You can’t go to any of these charities or organisations because as soon as you tell them you lost your friend to a stabbing it feels like they don’t understand. There needs to be help for young men out there”.

-“I think that Men, in general, need to be more honest about it and stop being so dismissive of it too – check up on your friends if they’re feeling down or acting unusual because it could be a lot worse than it seems on the surface. Side note – being from an Eastern European background our culture is very dismissive of men’s mental well-being and any signs of mental unrest is seen as weakness, and we’re usually told to ‘man up’, which more often than not worsens the problem more than it does solve it. And in our culture, mental health issues aren’t really recognised as real conditions but just ‘phases’”.

-“It’s something I personally struggled with for 6 years and I felt lost, angry, alone & very sad throughout my time with depression. You feel you can’t speak to anyone about this either that you’re afraid to or you think it will pass by itself, this is not the case speaking out about it with anyone not just a doctor or a therapist can help immensely. For me, my sister helped me throughout a lot of it. For me it wasn’t seeking a therapist it was speaking to my doctor and taking being advised to take Citalopram. This helped me a lot with all my issues I had. I also started at the Gym which I think personally really helps, it keeps your mind straight & focused, releases stress and motivates you; not just for me but I believe this helps for everyone generally regardless of depression. So if you are struggling with this and you have thought about seeking help please do so. So that we can fight these issues together. Don’t be afraid”.

“Men are raised to focus on their physical health and foster attitudes that society accept as manly; many of which contribute to poor abilities to deal with problems of the mental variety”.

-“Going through depression as a man isn’t something that’s often spoken about because men are inherently seen as strong/unemotional beings in society. I grew up without a prominent father figure and was often told to not cry or feel sad because I’m supposed to be strong for my mother and my siblings, as I’m ‘the man of the house’, this phrase stuck with me as it held so much weight. To me the phrase ‘man of the house’ basically means in hat context ‘you can’t be sad’ it was hard to not feel some kind of way about that, ironically, I got down and with the pressure of being ‘man of the house’ my feelings were never brought up and put aside for a long time until I finally broke, there have been times I’ve really thought about ending it, though, with a few people supporting me I got through it. Hopefully, we can change how sensitive this topic is for men”.

Some reading the above its clear their views on the topic are very similar. Lack of support and the need to break gender stereotype. This is coming from guys that you would pass every day and not once think to have any kind of issues. They continue with life, socialise, date, go to work and carry on; this is proof that you never know who is suffering or which men in your life come under 12.5%.

As a society, we need to do better and understand that the black dog exists. To understand what I mean by the black dog I advise you to watch the video below, but there are many simple things we can all do. Break the taboo on mental health and get talking; a simple hug can go along way, look into the hug movement on Instagram, they are spreading awareness of the positivity from holding someone close. Sometimes I walk around London and see people giving out free hugs; hugging reduces stress, improves self-esteem and boosts Oxycontin levels (also known as the love hormone).

Check on your friends especially your strong one every now and then and ask if they’re okay, hold meaningful group chats and social gatherings. Maybe it’ll be nice for a group to chill occasionally and talk about life instead of going on a binge every Saturday night. Make use of the research and charities out there. So far in this blog I’ve referenced different websites/organisations, the information is out there and so is the help. I am also available. This is something I am passionate about and could speak on until the end of time; I have an open-door policy on life and can provide that confidentially support you need. No one should be made to feel alone; sometimes it’s hard to speak to people close to you due to embarrassment or judgement but I can assure you there’s nothing embarrassing about opening up, if anything its courageous and inspirational.

I could talk about the ‘treatments’ such as the different therapy, counselling and medications but that is another story and something best to hear about from your GP or a Mental Health Organisation directly. I got help on an off chance; I went to see my GP for a completely different reason, made a ‘throw away’ comment and she picked up on it straight away. The GP gave me the information booklet for SLaM IAPT; I didn’t know what it was until I went on the website and I wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t think the comment I made was that deep but she managed to see that everything wasn’t as okay as I was trying to make out. This just proves how important listening is. If you pick up on something someone says and you think, hmm that doesn’t sound right and you’re not comfortable asking or digging deeper, just point them in the right direction. GP’s aren’t just for prescribing medication and referring you to Hospital, they do provide advice and professional, confidentially assistance.
As I said previously no one should be made to feel alone. This blog may be about Men’s mental health but we all need to work together to make sure our men are okay. Be a good support system, be a good friend, partner, neighbour because you never know how your comments or actions can affect someone.

Thank you to all the brave guys who shared their views and stories for this blog x

World Health Organisation (WHO) 2012- YouTube

References:

https://www.safeline.org.uk/mens-mental-health-a-silent-crisis/
https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mental-health 2017

Do You Boo

Self-esteem. Self-confidence. Self-love.

It is important for us to understand our own beauty within and our own health needs and wants in order to booth body confidence. Body confidence comes from more than what we look like; it’s how we feel and how we carry ourselves.

Weight loss/gain, relationships/friendships, work, virtually anything will lead to us losing our body confidence. It doesn’t help to live in a world with Twitter, Instagram and everyone’s opinion on the internet telling us what we should look like and how we should be living. Black girls are told to hide their natural hair, men are made to hide their feelings; these opinions and elements chip away at our confidence. We don’t want to be seen as vulnerable or make people feel awkward but there’s nothing wrong with rocking an Afro or a man crying. The moment you stop caring about what other people think and begin doing you, you gain part of yourself back. When you suffer from anxiety, depression or any type of mental illness it takes your confidence, whether it takes 9% or 90%. Some people (like I did) stop being social, stop going to the gym; some start comparing themselves to Instagram models, celebrities and what their friends are doing. Others begin to change their attitude, the way they dress or the stop wearing make-up. This is okay because these are tangible elements of us we can always get back.

When I lost my body confidence, I also lost all motivation. In order to gain it back, I had to think more in-depth about the point in which I stopped exercising and became anti-social. Once I touched on the problem, I was able to work out a solution. As a solution I would write down all the things I wanted to do. Whether it’s to try a new look or to get out of the house more and set myself a deadline to do this. If you do this note down how you’re going to do it, who with and what could be considered a barrier and why. Most importantly, try and stick to the plan. Tell a friend or family member so they can support you and give you a little push that is sometimes need.

Other ways to boost confidence is knowing your worth and loving yourself. To do this, you need to take care of your well-being. As mentioned in my first post ‘Anxiety’ fitness & travel have health benefits in terms of changing moods, behaviours and strengthening the mind. Fitness is a big influence. A few months after working out you may feel like a new person. Changing to a healthier lifestyle, again will change your mindset and make you feel like a new person.

Say it into existence. I will go out today. I will dress nicely. I will attend that birthday dinner on Saturday I was going to flake out of. Take a chance in life.

Distance yourself from bad vibes

Sometimes with mental health we tend to distance ourselves from people; usually the ones who care about us the most. We’re too fixated on our worries, stress and negativity to think about whether the people we do keep around are the problem.

I’ll happily admit I’ve cut close friends out of my life purely because I recognised they were no good. Friendships & relationships needs to work both ways. If you’re with someone who doesn’t ask how you are doing, calls just to check up on you or only talks about themselves, you need to question what’s the purpose of this. Depending on where you’re from, taking me (a British) for example, we don’t always like confrontation, dealing with frustrating situations or not being liked however, if you have someone in your life who isn’t bringing food to the table, simply send them away from your house (not literally but I think you get the point). I’ve had friends, even an ex who were so wrapped up in their own world and superficial behaviour that they didn’t realise I too was generally going through situations in which I needed support. When we are depressed or anxious we don’t want people to worry or feel sorry for us so we don’t make a big deal or say ‘look guys I’m depressed’ but someone real and meaningful in your life should be able to see a shift in your behaviour or even in your expressions, lifestyle and appearance.  Due to this, if you see a friend that is usually dressed to the nines and suddenly stops caring about their hair, or getting dressed up for a night out, just sit that person down and have a 1 to 1; see if they open up to you and trying to have a heart to heart.  

In whatsapp group chats there is usually one person in the group you’re closest too, or the loud one, the one with all the banter, the one with the gossip, the one who replies every 5-7 working days, the meme one and the one who reads but ‘forgets’ to reply. It’s very easy to act okay and to have a good time together but there’s no harm in opening a direct conversation with someone in the group if you pick up on something they said within the conversation that didn’t sit well with you. Sometimes people in group conversations can be indirect or like me quite passive aggressive. Check on your strong friend.

The thing with certain friends, especially the loud or the gossip is that you may question their intentions. The gossip could easily spread your business and the loud could easily make the situation about them. If there’s someone in your circle you don’t trust or can’t rely on, cut them out. If there sometimes there, sometimes not- cut them out. If you feel you’ve out grown the friendship- that’s right, you cut them out. Sounds harsh and rude but honestly, it’s a breath of fresh air to get rid of bad vibes. I’ve known people for many years and have outgrown friendships and acknowledge I’m better off without them. If I can’t confide in you and rely on you to help me get out my bad mood or to at least support me as a distraction then there’s really no time to entertain this. Sometimes it’s the people you’ve known for less time that become really good friends and its usually down to maturity and the stage in life you’re at.

Its not always friends that could be a problem. In the black community, especially within older generations (our parents, grandparents, more on) they don’t acknowledge mental illness as a thing. You must get up and continue with life, no point crying over spilled milk. The older generation believe we’re just lightweights and that they’ve been to hell and back so whatever we are going through isn’t that bad. Truth of the matter is, this world hasn’t become easier, everyday they’re constantly struggles. Culture sometimes stands in the way of treatment. In addition, seeking professional help, statically its hard to find a black professional in this field or if you do go to a Caucasian professional, would they truly understand your issues? It really depends on their experience.  I don’t think my professional understood that you can’t always just walk into a black household, sit down and openly talk about your feelings. In addition to family, your partner could have an impact.  Not everyone will have the most supportive, affectionate or understanding. How they help you deal with your mental health will determine whether they deserve a place in your life; unfortunately, you may love someone but its not always enough. Toxic behaviours and love could be one of the reasons you are feeling worried or stressed or depressed in the first place. If this is the case there are multiple reasons why you may not want to let go: fear of being alone, thinking you’ve found the one, thinking this is what you deserve, embarrassment or ending a relationship, the list goes on. However, when it comes to doing what is best for you, you need to be selfish and what’s best only  for you. Bearing this in mind, picture your life without the emotional and mental affect of this person. Think about the benefits of losing that negativity. You won’t automatically start feeling better, but you develop as a person and get to a stage in life were you will wonder why you put up with them in the first place. If you have to tell someone in your life to take a step back or to leave you for good, do you and maybe with maturity and time they will understand why.

Is this the road to recovery?

When I met with the professional, from beginning to end I was encouraged to think about recovery (clinical recovery). I did not agree with this at all but I carried on with what was required of me to complete the sessions. Clinical recovery is what professionals see as the end goal, it’s them acknowledging that they’ve helped you with your mental illness and think you are healed enough to continue in the real world without their assistance anymore. Over a year later I decided to do volunteer work within mental health; we discussed recovery and as a group of people who have all experienced some type of mental health issue, we overall agreed recovery does not exist.

There’s clinical recovery but there’s also personal recovery which is defined as building a happy and healthy life around mental health. That is doable but I say recovery doesn’t exist as I would define that as development. Not everyone goes back to being the person they once were and not everyone wants to be the person they once were. Due to bad memories or a negative outlook on life, why would someone want to go back to that headspace? Professionals never look at our goals simply as us wanting to be happy and healthy- that is it. We go to therapy, try new things, try to get out of negative environments in order to become a ‘new person’, the person we wanted to be the whole time. If someone suffers from anxiety and doesn’t like to leave their house, with help from my service, family, friends, anything that helps them change when they begin to make progress, this is not recovery. If anything I would consider it as a rebirth. The old, negative, stay at home you dies and the new, trying, motivated, getting out the house you begins to live and has a different perspective on life.

Recovery could be perceived for someone who has had a tragic experience, suffers from low moods and slowly but surely recovers back to their old self, however, after a tragic experience no one is truly the same and ‘back to normal’. When volunteering we were made to look at the Recovery Tree and think about all the elements in life that could help us improve. This is looking at strength, peer support, dreams, choices and many more.  Then we looked at relationships, hobbies, all the things we do and don’t do or would like to do. For example, I may like culture and history but not go to Museums like I would like to do. That is a relationship and social tasks I could work on in order to build on myself (confidence, anxiety, stress). The Recovery Tree is more of a development cycle.

In conclusion, don’t think of recovery as the end goal, think about what you want to achieve as the main goal. My personal opinion is we shouldn’t use the word recovery. It’s not a thing. In conversation, you wouldn’t say “Tom was depressed but he has recovered now”. I’m most likely to say “Tom was depressed but he’s out and about, looking better, eating better and I’m happy for him”. That’s not recovery, that’s healing and making way for a change…development.

How working out, works out

If it wasn’t for the gym I wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally and emotionally.

When seeking professional advice I had to create goals to reach within 6 weeks. I didn’t reach any of the goals within this time as I felt due to severe depression and anxiety it was near impossible. However, one of my goals was to get my confidence back and I believed that if I got my body confidence up to a certain level it would improve my confidence overall; therefore my goal was to join the gym and work on my fitness.

I would occasionally go on hikes or work out at home with a YouTube video I could relate to but there was not much consistency. I use to regularly do pilates and go on walks but over the year due to my health that had changed. In 2017 I decided I didn’t want to go to the gym and purely lost weight through healthy eating. Healthy eating is beneficial, refreshing and from evidence, I could say it helped mentally. Getting rid of a heavy carb based diet helped with mood swings. I also found adding vegetarian meals to my diet (especially during work lunchtimes) made me feel less grumpy and have more energy to get through the day.

Since joining the gym in 2018 (several months after therapy) everything changed. Being at the gym takes the mind off negativity. At the gym, being focused on exercise gives us time to think about ourselves; its an escape. We use this time to talk to ourselves, thinking about what we would be like if we worked more on our fitness, questioning why we didn’t join sooner.

On top of that, exercise changes moods and is an ideal start for tackling anxiety, depression and stress. Not only that but, research shows it improves self-esteem, confidence and motivation. Truth is in the pudding!

Since being more active I’ve been more social, confident and selfish, which in terms of your mental health is not a bad thing at all!

Recommendations:

  • Get on board the smoothie trend. This is a really refreshing detox, helps with weight loss and its been known ingredients such as Avocado, Blueberries Ginger and Almonds reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Join a gym or fitness group.
  • Try a new activity you’ve never done before and take a friend. I recently tried Pole Dancing 2 weeks ago and loved it (as shown on Instagram; definitely something I would continue with.
  • Lay of the snacks and fast foods; research shows this has negative impacts on mental health and moods.
  • Get a buddy. Have someone close to you who is willing to give you that extra push when you feel like giving up or lacking in motivation. In addition, click Let’s Talk.
  • Research further health benefits.
Imaged features on my Instagram account Solobutterflyy

Work-Related Stress

“If it wasn’t for my team I don’t know how I’d survive”.

That’s a saying I’ve heard from so many around me and I’ve said too many times myself.

Whether you are part-time, 9-5 or a manager of your own company, we’ve all experiences work stress at some point but the question is, how has it affected you?

When I am worked to the bone I keep going for months then all of a sudden I’d wake up one day and say “I can’t today”. I’d lay in bed for 40mins thinking about how drained am I. My body shuts down; I get flu-like symptoms and the thought of getting up and going to work makes me sick. After 2 days I’ll feel back to my usual self and re-energised. This happens once or twice a year due to the busy environments I’ve worked in. I am not alone. I’ve known people to gain acne, rashes, sleepless nights and much more due to the pressures of working life. On top of work stress, we sometimes feel judged for taking annual leave or taking a sick day; adding more stress to the situation. Work-related stress creeps up on us in different ways, however, it’s about how we deal with it.

I was stressing over a role and industry I had no interest in. The stress of my manager, other employees and the daily tasks overall was unbearable. On top of that, I was putting pressure on myself to move jobs and begin my desired career. Due to putting up with this stress for so long I decided to stop working completely, for a month; enough was enough. Bearing in mind I’ve been in constant work since I was 17 and now I’m 25, it was hard to switch off and just do nothing. I got into part-time work that allowed me to pick my hours and I took up volunteer work. I stopped applying for jobs and looking at job sites. From this break I can honestly say I’ve never felt better; I became more focused on me and my health. Yes, I was anxious to wake up every morning without a job but I was also relieved and excited because I was open to opportunity and change.

Recommendations:

  • Try to leave work at work- As soon as you leave work, focus on you. If there’s work you have not completed, don’t dwell on it; work is not the end all. Go home, run a bubble bath, connect with friends/family/partner(s) and deal with it tomorrow.
  • Fight for your annual leave- Sometimes it’s a struggle to get the days you want or you are unable to take annual leave due to a busy period at work however don’t let this stop you. Read through your contact, speak to HR if needed and make sure you make use of what work offers and make sure you know your rights in terms of annual leave and working hours.
  • Unwind- Don’t be someone who gets into the pattern of work and sleep. Being outdoors whether you are casually walking around town or cycling around the park has huge mental health benefits. If being outdoors is not your thing…do what you love. If you love spending your weekend playing video games, watching movies, cooking; make sure you put time aside for this.
  • Talk about it- Sometimes we love a good rant. I literally feel a weight lifted off my shoulders when I rant. I strongly advise you don’t rant to your manager or anyone you work with but, talk to your friends/family/partner(s) and let off some steam. Never bottle up your feelings otherwise you may turn into a walking timebomb at work. If the situation at work is bad and you want advice, talk to HR or occupational health, they are there for a reason.

Work is a replaceable element, always put your health first!

LESSON ON DEPRESSION

It’s not that deep until it happens to you.

I read that once and it’s so real. We sympathise, listen and nod along but never fully understand or ‘get it’ until we ourselves have been in that position.

I am so glad there is now a bigger awareness of mental health. Looking back, I first started getting depressed during my first year of University in 2012. At the time I didn’t know I was depressed and blamed it on low moods and change of environment; thought it was just a late moody teenage phase. If there was more of awareness back then I believe I could have dealt with it a lot differently and my life choices overall would be a lot different.  Instead, I left University, got a job to keep busy and went back to another University several months later. Things got better but with the ups and downs of life, the depression always followed me. It took 5 years to finally seek professional advice and to finally tell my friends and family. Instead of constantly replying to messages saying “yeah I’m good thanks, you?” I was actually expressing myself better and able to say ‘you know what I’m actually not good today and here’s why’.

After seeking professional help I realised University wasn’t the reason for the depression; it played a minor part however, I was triggered. In the year 2014-15 statistics show 1,180 students left Universities in the UK due to mental health (1). Shocking right? And we can only assume today that number has increased. I have always been bubbly, somewhat life of the party but when you’ve been depressed for so long your mind adapts and learns how to act around other people; its hard to know what someone is going through under the exterior.

I have dealt with people who have been depressed due to family life, being unlucky in love, not being able to find work and people who genuinely haven’t worked out why they feel this way. As mentioned before, you will never be able to pick a depressed person out of a lineup, however, bearing this in mind we can work through this together to make life easier. During mental health awareness week, I tweeted about my issues and I’ve never felt so free it; to finally be open. Depressions job is to eat away at us, so don’t let it. Unleash your true feelings; even if you write it down and throw the piece of paper away- at least that’s a start.

Further recommendations:

  • Make use of my services. My service is real and relatable in comparison to someone who is talking from theories and studies. With my experience and knowledge, we will be able to make a strategic plan to be a better you.
  • Seek professional help. Contact your GP and they will be able to refer you.
  • Get reading. If you are not ready to talk to anyone about your feelings, a great start would be to understand your mind and how to tackle the issue:
    -Depression: A practical guide – The Flag Series by Dr Harry Barry
    -Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
  • Stay active to keep your mind active. Whether you say yes to all social events or pick up a new hobby; don’t let depression know you’re sitting at home letting it get you.

For further assistance/advice on depression, please comment or click ‘Let’s Talk’.

Reference:

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/23/number-university-dropouts-due-to-mental-health-problems-trebles