At Broker Network, we have a team of Wellbeing Champions, who are mental health first aid trained and there for our staff should they need someone to speak to. One of our Champions, Matt Nelson, shares his experience to break the stigma around male mental health.
Strength, dominating positions of power, the hunter-gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is alluring / attractive, the ‘show no weakness’ bravado of heroes in our media, unfortunately takes its toll on us fellas who are suffering with our mental health. In many of these macho images, there is little room for talking openly about our problems and concerns. The men who are most revered in society (famous, wealthy, successful, powerful) are not always ready to admit their struggles in public and that can leave the ‘average bloke’ feeling uncertain about speaking out. It certainly feels like we are afraid of how we feel, through fear of being judged by society as a ‘weak man’. Over 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health.
So why is this important and why does this relate to me? I’m a 6ft 7in, ex-rugby player and all my mates call me the BFG. I always seem happy and content on the outside, but this isn’t always the case. In my teens, which were probably the most difficult years of my life, I was bullied through school for being overweight. By the time I took my GCSEs, my anxiety was so overwhelming, and the constant bullying was getting me down. I played rugby at a local club and my coach asked what was wrong, I explained how anxious I was and how I was feeling. My coach told me to stop being such a “big girl’s blouse and man up”. His reaction made me feel that I was stupid for feeling how I was, you had to be macho to play rugby. For the following four years, I never spoke to anyone about how I was feeling through fear of being judged or ridiculed as my rugby coach had done before.
So, what changed? The turning point came for me when I started with panic attacks and feeling so depressed about how anxious I’d become; I didn’t even want to get out of bed or leave the house. It was at this point I knew I needed to speak out and not fear being judged, as my life wasn’t worth continuing how it was. I’d also stopped playing rugby and become very withdrawn.
It felt great to have an honest and open conversation with someone about my mental health. When I spoke with a doctor it was immediately clear that I shouldn’t have waited so long to speak with them. It felt good letting out all the feelings about myself that I’d hidden away for over four years. I explained to my doctor about what my coach had said, and she told me, “You’re manning up right now by speaking out”. It felt great to have an honest and open conversation with someone about my mental health, something I’d not done for a long time. Following the appointment with the doctor, I opened up to friends and family about my mental health problems as well. One thing I must mention was the immense support I received from friends and family once they knew I was suffering.
Why have I shared my experiences with you? Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 40 and I personally know how isolating it feels when you are a male, in environments where those feelings could be ridiculed or made fun of. I was lucky enough to find my own support and this in turn has led me to campaign for the stigma around male mental health to be removed, so more men will open up. There is no shame in having mental health problems and speaking out, you should never be judged because of poor mental health. Still, over 40% of men will not talk about their feelings and I personally think if us fellas opened up more, we wouldn’t see the sad fact that suicide is the biggest killer for men under 40.
- Talking to someone you trust, a close friend or family member, maybe even your doctor
- Considering why you find it uncomfortable asking for help and whether those reasons are actually stopping you from getting the support you need
- Speak to other men who have had similar experiences.