Recently I used Instagram stories to ask the people that follow me what they would like me to write about. I sometimes find myself stuck in a blog type rut and I thought that would be a really good way of giving me some inspiration. Interestingly one of the most suggested topics was male mental health.
Now I’m obviously missing one of the most essential things you need to be a male (I am, promise!) and therefore a male perspective of mental health is not something I can easily give. However I keep coming back to the topic and thought about how it should be one I tackle. I may be a woman but I am raising boys. I would be very naive if I didn’t realise that at some point I would have to tackle how mental health effects men in my role as a wife and mother. On reflection this has already started. As a girl who grew up with a sister, went to an all girls school and whose Dad often worked away for long periods of time I was massively lacking knowledge in the world of all things male. Having had boys and watching them grow I now realise that many of the issues I used to think were female specific are in fact affecting both genders.
My sons who are seven and nine are already dealing with pressures that life and in particularly school throw at them. Not having the right trainers, not being allowed a mobile phone (at this age!) not having the right haircut, not playing the right video games and the list goes on and on. I have seen the anguish in their faces when we discuss these topics and I see clearly that to them these pressures cause considerable worry when trying to please their peers and not be made fun of. The funny thing is of course that most of us as grown ups have learned the lesson that being who we are is how we become the most beautiful version of ourselves and that one persons cool is another persons embarrassment. Take me and my flowers for example. I’ve mentioned before I’m often mocked because I love flowers and would happily spend hours arranging them but to me watching a football match would be an absolute bore.
Trying to get two little people trying to find their way in a fast paced world where everyone seems to grow up faster by the year though is of course tough and we try and toss up what is important to them alongside doing our best to encourage their own unique personalities. I can see from this young age why mental health issues such as anxiety play such a big part in so many male lives. To be so very concerned about all these things from such a young age is a huge burden to bear. I have always been honest with the boys about my own issues and as such I think we are a very aware family about mental health and the many ways it can effect us. The boys are both used to talking about how they feel and they know that if there is an issue it’s really important to find a way to express it as it allows them to look at the problem in a different way and not be consumed by it. We are far from perfect but I’m so very aware that I don’t want the boys to have the crippling issues I’ve had to deal with all my adult life and if I can help in anyway to give them some tools to deal with whatever issues arise I will.
When you look at the statistics surrounding men and mental health it’s quite staggering. Male suicide figures show that many more men commit suicide than women and it’s the same across the whole world. There are news stories often about young men in particular who have taken their own lives for many different reasons. I can’t describe the sadness I feel when read about and think about this. Why is it seen as more acceptable for a woman to seek help, to talk about her issues or to say openly ‘I suffer with my mental health’? I don’t know the answer to the question, whatever it is it’s wrong. Men and women who are so equal in so many ways now (I appreciate there are still some differences but I’m not here to discuss gender pay gaps etc) should both be able to seek help for their mental health in the same way for whatever reason they need to without fear of judgement or being seen as any less manly.
The idea that boys have to be tough and not have feelings is something that has been turned on it’s head in many societies however I understand and see that there is still a huge pressure in this area. It must be a huge conflict for a man who is suffering if he feels he always has to be strong and can’t show weakness. I can only look at my own journey here and mention my own experiences which is that by admitting and dealing with my demons not only am I stronger but I realise how just how brave I can be. You have to start though and as so many of us know that very first step is often the hardest and loneliest one we will ever take.
The boys have always loved the music of Avicii, as have I and this is where they get it from. I remember them singing along in the car as toddlers to his song ‘wake me up’ and there aren’t many days that go by where we don’t listen to his music. For those who don’t know who he is Avicii was a Swedish musician who mostly made dance music. His real name was Tim Bergling and he was born in 1989 six years after me. He had phenomenal success with his music which although is based on dance covered many genres making it all the more popular. I remember years ago reading a piece about his extreme social anxiety and how he found it so hard performing at concerts as he focussed on how it could all go wrong and couldn’t cope. He self medicated with alcohol and got to a point where he had made himself so ill he was hospitalised. In 2016 he stopped touring after an addiction to prescription painkillers and him realising he needed to make changes in his life.
It’s hard to imagine someone at the peak of a successful career suffering so massively with their mental health. Being rich, famous and successful are things that many ‘normal’ people can only wish for. But this is what I have often said here mental health doesn’t discriminate. It touches on the lives of everyone from everywhere and no one can be safe in the knowledge that they will never experience in some way because most of us do. Two years after quitting touring Avicii took his own life. Clearly still in great anguish and unable to escape his demons. The first anniversary of his death is tomorrow the 20th of April, he was 28. I was so very sad when I heard he had died and although they didn’t release the cause of his death straight away I knew what it would be.
The boys and I have had many conversation over the last year about his death. At first I wasn’t sure whether to be honest with them as it’s such a hard hitting subject for a small person but Karl and I discussed it and decided it would be okay to tell them about this huge issue. We have been delicate but the boys know that their favourite pop star felt that he couldn’t continue. We discuss how sad it was that he felt he had no where else to go and places that can help you if you feel that you have no where else to turn. They have asked me questions about whether I have had such thoughts before and what kinds of places where we live can help. They have both spoken numerous times about how hard it is to understand as Avicii was so cool and made ‘the best’ music. It’s been a learning curve for them that sometimes you can have all the cool stuff, be popular and liked but still not be happy. It’s opened dialogue about being who you are and that life is hard no matter what but an awful lot harder if you are trying to please everyone else the whole time. We have also had to cover that some people no matter what aren’t kind and no matter what you do you will never please them!
I have no idea if this is what the people who suggested I write about male mental health had in mind and I’m worried I’ve come no where near doing the job justice but I hope that if you’ve got this far you’ve taken something away from this blog post. If nothing else please listen to some of Avicii’s music and the beautiful words he wrote. There are some amazing places you can look to for help if you are suffering now. You don’t have to feel alone or that there is no where else to turn. You can contact The Samaritans here and the Rethink Mental Illness site here has lots of resources also.
Thanks for reading xxx