Members of The Good Men Project’s Men’s Mental Health Social Interest Group got together to discuss the very important topic of mental health. I was elated to learn from everyone; it was an opportunity for me to step in for my young 4-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. Our group met every week and shared stories and ideas. What came out of it was an encouraging video that included seven of us plus the prominent actor Steven Ogg—from “The Walking Dead”—who has experienced battles of depression, himself.
In my part of the video, I made a reference to how we will never give up on our son while encouraging others to never give up either in their own situation. Watch it here:
In our group’s weekly meetings, I was amazed at how candid and open these men were about some of the struggles they’ve gone through and told in the video, as well. I thought each of them was a fighter and champion in their own way, even though many if not all still acknowledge current battles.
I’ve seen a few people over the years with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. but before participating in this group, I was comfortable in ignoring those issues, for some reason. Maybe it was because I always felt some sort of sadness or because I was uninformed about the many mental health issues. Not that I didn’t care, but I wasn’t personally affected by it at the time, which could’ve played a key role in my unwillingness to learn more about it.
My journey with my son Jordan has been a rather tough, but a valuable learning experience for my entire family. He is a fun-loving boy who is non-verbal but enjoys laughing and playing with his older brother Andre, Jr. who is 10 years old. For the first 18 months or so everything seemed normal with Jordan and we didn’t notice anything out the ordinary. He said a few words clearly during this period. Every time my father in law would come to our house, Jordan would get excited and say, “Paw Paw” sort of repeatedly. We noticed, one day, that he stopped talking, and later on, there were other changes, as well. While obviously concerned, we got help for many of those things that continue today while he gradually improves.
I was very lost about autism at the beginning of this journey and in denial a little as well. I really didn’t understand the condition but thanks to my wife Kendra (with 15 plus years in elementary education), she got me up to speed very quickly about the condition. She was the one who noticed subtle things and knew something was wrong. Her experience with past students led us to get him tested for many issues, for which the autism spectrum was the initial diagnosis. We were devastated when we heard the news from multiple physicians, and we still struggle with it from time to time. But for the most part, we’ve learned to cope with Jordan’s diagnosis by staying positive and focusing on Jordan and Andre, Jr. who has been protective, very patient, and understanding the situation with his baby brother.
Most people probably wouldn’t associate autism with mental health, but it is a mental condition that happens early in childhood that can cause developmental delays in communication and interaction, etc. Often times I find myself thinking back to my teenage years and remembering a few children that likely were autistic. I’m not a clinical doctor and could possibly be wrong, but the signs and symptoms that my son has, such as hand flapping and obsessively focusing on a particular object, brings back memories of schoolmates from during that time of my life. There are different levels of autism that I discovered by researching and watching many helpful videos about this condition.
I’m not sure which one of the group members came up with the idea, but to make something helpful for people dealing with mental health issues was gold to me. I didn’t think twice about contributing to this great cause when the idea was presented. I immediately thought about how powerful this message could be for someone who is having thoughts of suicide, anxiety, OCD, autism—or even a family member or friend of someone with a mental illness who might be going through a rough time. We wanted to tell a story of transparency that leads to encouragement for anyone that could be feeling dejected and dispirited.
Here is our group video:
Who do you know with a mental health issue?
I’m not sure if I could truthfully answer the same question before my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum to be quite honest. There are many causes to some of these issues and just as many questions remain about mental health. Getting help might be one of the most difficult steps in the entire process, but it’s available and very possible to move towards. Dealing with any mental illness is a very unfortunate task for anyone involved. Please be proactive and get assistance for yourself or someone else and know that it can be accomplished because you are #NotWeakJustHuman.
Photo credit: The Good Men Project