I was almost 39 before I finally decided to seek help for my depression and anxiety.
While I am happy I finally took those steps; I know there are thousands of men dealing with mental health issues much worse than mine and are refusing to seek treatment. Even knowing the longer they go, the worse it will get as they delay seeking out any type of solution.
Now that I have started the journey on the other side of my disease, it’s easy for me to look at others with disbelief that they won’t address their problems. What I often have to remind myself is that for a very long time I was just like them. I didn’t want to face my demons for several reasons and knowing what those reasons were; I can usually easily spot them in others.
This isn’t to say everyone I run across has a mental health problem or is in some sort of denial, but when they are, I can usually notice. Not because I am some sort of PH.D. or some trained expert, I can just see my actions in them. The truth is only you know what’s going on inside of your head, and even professionals have to get honest answers from you to present a clear and correct diagnosis. But just like any other ailment, we all know are bodies and know when something isn’t right.
The question remains, why do we put it off? Why do we risk relationships, careers, and our health by putting off medical help for these problems? For me, there were several reasons, now some of them seem stupid, but at the time, they were real hurdles to get over.
Religion- Admittedly, in the last few years I have become an Atheist, but in the years before, I was involved in Church. The overriding theme when it came to mental health in the church I was part of was that it could be cured with prayer. Many also believed and still believe that mental health problems are demonic in some way. The stigma attached to mental health treatment would have been to big to bear had it become known withing my religious circles.
Now I admit there are many from all religious faiths that are currently under mental health treatment plans and are very open about it. Not all churches and religions are the same. However, there are many just like me who avoid treatment altogether because they see themselves as some sort of failure with their god or they hide their treatment for the fear of shame and ridicule from fellow believers. For men in the church, these stigmas can be much more detrimental because so much social interaction is built on those relationships. Once a man becomes an outcast or is ostracized, it reaches each member of his family. For many men, myself included, I couldn’t subject myself or the ones I loved to that.
Society’s view of masculinity- Even in this day and age, we still hold on to old stereotypes as a society. Guys wearing pink means their less manly, people who work with their hands for a living are stupid; overweight people are just lazy, and men receiving treatment for mental health issues are just weak. As we progress as a society, these beliefs become less and less prevalent but in some areas, they are still quite strong.
Many still hold on to these and other bigoted beliefs closely because they don’t understand. Until society, as a whole, is more willing to educate it on issues of mental health, these ideas will continue cast a dark cloud over us. Seeking treatment for any medical problem is not a sign of weakness, mental health is a real problem just like heart disease and it kills men every day because they don’t seek help.
Fear of the unknown- For me, there was a great deal of fear in the daily symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some were almost paralyzingly and regularly made me avoid people and social situations. They also cause me to lash out with anger over arbitrary issues. The greater fear at the time was going and finding out that something was “wrong” with me. Would it mean I was crazy, would it mean I was less of a man? The fear of confronting the problem head on somehow seemed less scary than fighting a battle against a foe I knew deep down I could never defeat.
I feared to have to admit to anyone else, even a doctor, that there might be something going on. I feared to reveal this to my family, even though many of them probably had some idea already. Mainly I feared to come to terms with myself that I had something in my life I couldn’t control, and I feared how my life would change if I finally did something about it. I know now that all of these fears were irrational, but at the time, they bound me to inaction.
Lack of understanding of the real problem- This may have initially been my biggest problem. I thought how I acted was normal! I was just moody, or having a bad day when I would be in the cloud of depression. I was just an introvert and didn’t like people when anxiety was keeping me away from crowds and fun activities.
I was just a normal guy who had a temper and wanted to be left alone most of the time. There were lots of guys like me; I’m just a jerk, and that’s all there is to it. It wasn’t until I sat down and did some real research to get an understanding of why I was the way I was did I even begin to consider treatment. This literally took me years to even begin to come to terms with and when I did it was a cold slap in the face.
Many men are struggling with the same areas, and some have other issues keeping them living in a personal hell. What I truly want others to realize is that you don’t have to live in silence and fear any longer, there is help available, and it’s available to you. It’s never too late to begin a new chapter; I am living proof of that.
You’re more than worth it.
Photo: Flickr/ Ed Yourdon