In honor of Mental Health Month, The Good Men Project presents some of its best writings on mental health.
One of the most important subjects that our society grapples with is mental health.
How do we attend to it? How do we cope when we or our loved ones struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD? How can we best support ourselves and care for those we love? How can we shift away from a culture that stigmatizes mental health to one that openly addresses mental health as part of everyone’s general health?
Over the years, The Good Men Project has published numerous articles on mental health. This collection provides you with a jumping-off point into our most compelling writing and best thinking on the subject.
Depression. A Part of the Human Condition by Anonymous
When looking at the rich complexities of his own and other people’s life with depression, a man can still end up on the side of hope:
“In the not-too-distant past, I was one of those people that believed that there was no such thing as depression. That everyone gets sad. That it was a cop out. A sign of weakness, by those who can’t cope.
I was wrong.
As I learned from experience—it’s real. Very real. There was a time when, over a period of months, I became absolutely paralyzed. Every day was too much. Everything shut down. I couldn’t write. And I couldn’t think, except for the cycling fears and the anxieties. I wouldn’t interact with those around me. I didn’t want to be around anymore. It was the lowest period of my life, the nadir (or perhaps the culmination?) of my battle with depression. And coming to terms with my depression—even just talking about it, has been incredibly difficult.”
Men and the Stigma of Mental Illness by Dr. Narveen Dosanjh
Men are subjected to a culture where the standards of masculinity are literally making them sick:
“Its time to teach future generations of boys that they don’t have to grow up in emotional prisons. It’s time to teach the world that what makes you a man is manning up to what’s really going on inside your mind and heart.
It’s recognizing that you are human with wounds and flaws. That you are not invincible and don’t have to pretend to be. It’s time to take the mask off. It will take a different kind of courage for a man to take his first steps to becoming vulnerable. But we can start with our words and changing the way we speak, view and treat mental illness or any psychological issues.”
Men and Therapy: Perfectly Hidden Depression by Dr. Margaret Rutherford
Therapy is about doing something about the problems in your life. It’s not sitting around and talking about them. It’s about solutions:
“Therapy is about understanding yourself. How your past and present are connected. How what happened to you twenty years ago may still be affecting you today. It’s not about blame. It’s about acknowledgment. What could be governing your behavior will no longer be lurking around in the background. . . .
Therapy is about doing something about the problems in your life. It’s not sitting around and talking about them. It’s about solutions. Confrontation of issues. Movement. Getting on with it!
You don’t have to deny your depression. But seek help. Take action.”
Chronically Unhappy or Depressed? by Nat Coakley
Nat Coakley has 5 ways to support someone who is down.
“I have seen a number of articles recently regarding habits of “chronically unhappy people.” The“ habits” outlined in these articles are often things like viewing life as hard, not engaging with other people, seeing what’s wrong more than what’s right, worrying about the future, comparing oneself to others, and complaining.
I would whole-heartedly agree that these could each be called a bad habit, but as a therapist I also see them as symptoms of depression, especially when taken as a
Erasing the Shame from Depression by Kristin Diversi
Kristin Diversi takes an honest look at living with depression, and discusses a few tips on how to deal with it:
“One of the most frustrating parts of my depression is the fact that I can’t “happy” it away, and no one else can, either. My incredible husband can’t love it away, but he’ll certainly try (and I’ll love him twice as much, for the effort). I can’t exercise it away. I can’t shop it away. I’ve tried all of these things, and more.
And I feel shame. Shame because my life is nearly perfect, and I can’t un-depression myself. Shame because my husband (like many spouses) is amazing and wonderful and fully supportive, and so how can I still have depression? Shame because I do what I love, and still. What more can you ask for, Depression?”
When ‘ Smile’ is the Worst Thing to Say by Shawn Henfling
Mental illness is everywhere and touches virtually everyone. How can you be part of the solution?
“Smile, you are supposed to be having fun. You look so miserable.”
Sometimes we just don’t think before we speak. I’ve certainly been guilty of this transgression. Immediately after uttering the words, I typically knew the mistake I’d made. A seemingly innocuous statement like the one above says so much more than just “smile”. We aren’t photographers commanding children to put on their best fake grin for the camera. Someone who may be feeling depressed already knows they should be smiling and having fun. We know full well that many have it worse, or that we’re bringing others down by not showing outwardly that we’re enjoying the moment. We are simply powerless to avoid it. Pointing out the obvious will only make those feelings worse.
Instead of commanding a smile, we should ask: “Is everything alright?” It’s a seemingly similar question, but they’re actually worlds apart.”
When Your Partner is Depressed: 5 Truths by Heather Gray
Heather Gray offers insight on how to be supportive without giving yourself away:
“When a loved one is depressed, loving and concerned partners will instinctively respond with caregiving, nurturing, and problem-solving. Knowing that people living with depression can’t always articulate what they need, partners and spouses will often assume responsibilities, in their efforts to be supportive.
They will do things for their partners, will demonstrate patience, and will work to be accepting of the changes that are occurring to their relationships. They avoid conflict or anything that may put additional pressure on their partners.
Spouses, in an effort to support their loved ones, give themselves away. They deny their own needs and avoid setting important boundaries. While based in good intentions, these are the choices that often lead to resentment, anger, and impatience. Disconnections become deeper and more ingrained and the relationship is further affected.”
Danny Baker has some solid advice for helping a loved one struggling with depression.
“Considering that 350 million people are estimated to suffer from depression worldwide, chances are that someone you’re close with battles this illness. Yet despite its prevalence, depression is still minimally spoken about, so those surrounding the affected person are left to wonder about how best to help them.
To offer some guidance, I’ve put together the following list of do’s and don’ts.”
Spring Without Robin by Cabot O’Callaghan
Cabot O’Callaghan ponders how Robin Williams’s suicide affected him and explores his own relationship with depression:
“My expectations are low when I talk about depression. People don’t like to talk about it, especially those who suffer from it. Everyone is afraid of sadness. It’s a taboo in a world obsessed with defining and attaining happiness. Kind of telling, don’t you think?
And how in the fuck are you supposed to talk about it? I mean, I don’t get it either. Depression is a heavy shadow cast over the mind, a psychic encumbrance. It’s a chronic deep dull ache. It’s running on knees. It’s an earworm hum. It’s a vampiric curse. It’s tying shoelaces with with fingers cut off at the first knuckle. It’s the constant smell of burning but the flames and smoke are nowhere to be found. It’s the power to see sadness in a sunbeam.
See? Find sense in any of that. This is why when someone asks how we’re doing, we like to say, “I’m fine.” It’s easy. Safe. We get to dodge confusion and misunderstanding and harsh judgement and ignorant advice and “tough love” and pity-packed platitudes.”
I May Be Crazy (But It Just May Be a Lunatic You’re Looking For) by Michael Kasdan
Mike Kasdan says that mental health maladies like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and autism reflect the diversity of our minds, and we should embrace them rather than stigmatize them:
“There is a well-known and deep-seeded stigma about mental health in our society. When you stop and think about it, this is not terribly surprising.
First, the underpinnings of our society – our laws, our cultural mores, the things that give us comfort that we are in this together and not alone – all are based on the assumption that we are more alike than different. Being different can be uncomfortable; it can be isolating. Ironically, however, it is our differences, our variety, that can be our greatest strength.
Second, we fear crazy. The inner workings of the human brain can be unsettling, irrational, and dark. Often we look at differences that we don’t fully understand and see them as an illness – something to be fixed or cured. This is the case with the autism spectrum, with bipolar disorder, and with ADHD, for example. And this is despite the case that each of these “conditions” comes with a super power.
But what if everything we think we know is wrong?”