Breaking the Stigma

What I learned about Men’s Mental Health from my Father

     My father was born in 1940, an era where men were expected to be strong and steady, they had to provide for their household, and mental health was not a conversation topic. The lack of tolerance and understanding regarding mental illness made it feel like a taboo subject. As my father described it, the lack of tolerance of all forms of mental illness led to bullying in schools, workplaces and amongst friends. He was taught that showing emotion showed weakness and that wasn’t acceptable.

Raised in a military household, my father is a very type A individual. He is always making to-do lists, worrying about the next list to tackle, and he likes to be the one in control of most situations. It took many years and my own journey with anxiety and depression to realize that some of the ways my high functioning anxiety manifests was the same as his. As I reflected more on it and spoke with my mom more, I realized that we shared the same genetic disposition to mental illness.

When I was diagnosed with depression and general anxiety disorder and started medication my father and I faced a bit of a bump in our relationship. I have always been extremely close with my dad; he is truly the light of my life and I couldn’t fathom why we were arguing so much about decisions I was making for my mental health. I was struggling, always emotional and panicked and he kept telling me I needed to be stronger and that crying wasn’t going to help. We were at an impasse, as I wanted to discuss my feelings and emotions and he did not.

I clearly remember the night my mother told me to explain to my father why his actions confused me. I remember sitting and telling him “now I know you hate tears and I will cry, I can’t help it, but I need you to listen” and he did. He sat through my tears and listened to my concerns and feelings. We discussed how similar we were and how anxiety manifested the same for both of us. He shared helpful tips on how he coped with the stress and lack of sleep, he showed me the unconditional love a father only can, and I began to understand. I understood his intentions were to protect me from any mockery mental health can cause and the impacts that those with mental illness had faced in his generation. He was trying to help in the way he knew how, blatant conversation on depression and anxiety were not something he was used to or comfortable with. So started a journey of growth for both of us, more dialogue led to more similarities and more similarities led to more understanding. He became my sounding board on challenging days, and I like to think I got to teach him to start destigmatizing mental health and seeing it for what it was, an illness.

Over years of continued growth, my father has only become even more incredible in my eyes. As he began to take my illness in stride, offering comfort, love and support (even when I just needed to cry). Even many years later he is still my first call on nights I don’t sleep from anxiety or when I just need someone to talk to. He makes my world a safer and steadier place and I am so grateful for the shift in conversation towards destigmatizing mental health that we have together faced.

While I am lucky to live in a generation where the focus is shifting, he was not and even furthermore as a male he has had to face the pressure of what men were supposed to be. Even today the stereotype still persists, men are consistently told and taught that weakness is not acceptable, mental health is not something to discuss, and you must be strong. This has made it a systemic issue in today’s society.

“Men’s health” is still a relatively new term and because of the stereotype imposed on men, lack of research and funding, and prolonged silence on this issue, there are major barriers to accessing resources and help for men’s mental health. Men are not encouraged to seek help or show interest in this area and often repress concerns over their mental state. Though there has been a recent acknowledgement of this issue, there is still a long way to go. More resources, funding, and education regarding men’s mental health must be made available. By raising awareness to this issue, we can begin to reduce the stigma.

 “If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it.” – Russell Wilson 

Some great additional resources and campaigns related to men’s mental health can be found in the links below:

  • HeadsUpGuys: a Movember Foundation funded group dedicated to supporting men living with depression, as well as their friends and families. They provide practical advice, information about professional services and inspirational stories of recovery.
  • Canadian Men’s Health Foundation is full of resources targeted at men's health. Also check out their Mental Illness brochure.
  • The Lifeline Canada Foundation provides great resources targeted towards Health Strategies for Managing and Preventing Depression.

Erin Murray, Calgary AB

Erin is a dog lover, coffee addict, and aspiring poet with her first book on the way. She is a mental health advocate, often sharing her journey with others to help remove the stigma placed on mental health. Instagram: @erinmichellemur

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