Danny Baker wants other men to know it’s OK to ask for help when struggling with issues like depression.
When we think about the traits of a “good man”, some obvious examples come to mind: on a physical level, being fit and strong; on a deeper level, being honest, dependable, a hard worker, and a good husband, father and mate. But in this day and age, there’s another characteristic us men should have, and that’s the willingness to talk about our feelings. You want to be tough when you’re on the footy field, but when you’re going through a rough patch, the best thing you can do is soften the f*ck up.
Let’s talk mental health
In lay man’s terms, depression can be described as an intense state of unhappiness experienced over a prolonged period of time. The symptoms are widespread, and include withdrawal from close family and friends; being unable to concentrate; relying on alcohol and sedatives; feeling overwhelmed, angry, worthless, or tired all the time; and in the worst cases, feeling suicidal.
Many people have the ideology that “real men” are always in control, are always on top of things, and don’t let anything get to them. As a result, such people often think that if a man suffers from depression, then it means he’s weak. But the truth is that even the strongest of men can fall victim to depression—just ask all of the athletes and soldiers that have been afflicted. It’s one of those illnesses that doesn’t discriminate, and can be brought about by stressors such as family conflict, relationship problems, poor working conditions, substance abuse and traumatic events—things that many of us experience at some point in our lives. In fact, that’s exactly why depression is so widespread, with approximately 1 in 8 men expected to be affected in their lifetime.
The male psyche
Society’s ideology of manliness can make it difficult for us to acknowledge that we have a health problem—particularly a mental health problem that no-one can see. I think it’s also fair to say that at times, we can be too stubborn and proud to ask for help when we need it (anyone else ever refused to ask for directions when they’ve been lost?). We’re the ultimate D.I.Y.ers, so if we have a problem, we often do everything we can to try and fix it ourselves.
But depression can be a serious illness, and when it goes untreated, it only gets worse. As they grow more and more miserable, many men increasingly act out in the form of reckless behavior or explosions of anger. Like I used to do, they may also try to drown their sorrow in drugs and alcohol. And if they go untreated for long enough, they run the risk of becoming suicidal – which is exactly what happened to me. I just kept getting sicker and sicker and sicker until one day I found myself standing on the edge of a bridge, fantasizing about jumping into an early grave.
I eventually sought help and was able to recover, but not all men are so lucky. In fact, in Australia, the UK and the US, men account for approximately 80% of suicides—a direct result of the social norms of masculinity.
Soften the f*ck up
So, fellas, if you’re going through a hard time at the moment, soften the f*ck up and reach out for help. Have a chat with a mate or your partner about the things you’ve been feeling, and make an appointment with a doctor to see how he can help you recover. Doing so saved my life, and it can save yours, too.
This is the message being pushed by a number of prominent mental health activists and NGOs, in response to the prevalence of depression among men and the gender’s disturbingly high suicide rate. The “Soften The F*ck Up” campaign—a brilliant initiative and the catchphrase of this post—was recently launched in Australia to “make it easier for men to take action than to take their own life”. Similarly, mantherapy.org has been established to challenge the perceptions of masculinity and educate current and potential sufferers about depression and anxiety. On an individual level, British actor Stephen Fry has been inspiringly open about his experience with mental illness, as has Canadian sports journalist and TV host Michael Landsberg, whose open, honest, man-to-man talk about his depression with Steve Paikin on The Agenda was one of the most refreshing things I’ve seen in a very long time.
Such people and organizations have realized the importance of speaking out and diminishing the stigma around male depression. Their efforts, combined with those of others, gives hope that as a society, we are moving in a direction where it’s more accepted for a man to admit he’s struggling, and then seek help as a result. However at present, we’re still prisoners of a rigid, destructive ideology, and until we break out of it, there’ll just be more and more suffering.