I recently got an e-mail from a young man who was going through a difficult time mentally. I won’t get into the details of his struggle but the most hurtful thing for him was the lack of support he was receiving from his partner and the hurtful things she said to him as he tried sharing his struggles with her. Because of this he struggles with his condition alone.
I wish I could tell you that he was the only man struggling with a mental health condition, condemned by society and left to suffer in silence, but sadly, he is not.
Our culture in Jamaica has seen men who struggle with mental challenges such as depression being regarded as “bawly bawyl”, those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are labelled as dramatic and attention seeking and those struggling with anxiety are just laughed at and chided as “fool-fool”.
The lack of support from friends and family and the pressure from society to live up to the expectations of being a “man” leads many of these men down the road of developing unhealthy coping mechanism which could possibly be a contributor to larger societal problems such as domestic violence and suicide.
In Jamaica, mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are reported in higher number amongst women, but 2.3 per cent of men reportedly struggle with each disorder. In 2021, the Bureau of Gender Affairs released statements highlighting that suicide numbers in Jamaica are higher among men.
So we know what the issues are, but how do we help our men to make healthy steps towards getting help for their mental health struggles? How do we get them to share their struggles and not feel that they have to suffer in silence?
Simply put, we need to remove the stigma associated with mental health and release the toxic and unrealistic expectations we have of men.
Let’s start with the toxic expectations. It is unrealistic to expect a man to never show emotions. They are humans after all! If they are injured, they will bleed and will need medical attention. So too if there is an in balance in their brain that results in a mental disorder, they need to seek help from a mental health professional. Seeking help for or even having a mental illness is not a sign of weakness.
Next, let’s try to tackle this stigma. Mental illnesses are real illnesses. Persons who struggle with them are not just “mad”, they are not all dangerous, and are certainly not contagious. A mental illness is a disorder that impacts or affects mood, thoughts or behaviours. Just like “bad mind” is not contagious, neither is a mental illness.
Struggling with a mental illness does not make a man weak and/or inferior or any less of a man. If anything, the courage it takes for him to admit to this struggle and seek help makes him even stronger!
To the men out there who are struggling with a mental illness, weather it is anxiety, depression or any other, you don’t need to suffer on your own, you are not alone in your struggle and the sooner you get help, the better you will feel.
Sereta Thompson is a public relations professional and mental health advocate. She can be contacted at email@example.com Follow her on Instagram: @ShadesOfSerri