Updated: Jun 2, 2022
When my friends at Xposure asked me to write a blog post about mental wellbeing for mental health awareness month, my initial reaction was panic, and the thing is, that’s a problem. I am a champion for mental health care, I am open with my use of mental health professionals for working through issues personal and professional as well as the couple’s counseling I am currently in to help strengthen my relationship.
But…there is still some fear about opening up and being vulnerable. There is so much stigma around mental health in the U.S. that even though I want to be an example of a strong, successful person who relies on professional mental health help to live my fullest and happiest life, I still have the stigma self-talk in my head. What will my team think if I tell them I’m having struggles, will they follow a leader who is flawed? What will my customers think? Will they continue doing business with someone who is “crazy, unstable, wrestling with demons” and every other harmful term we ascribe to seeking mental health help.
I don’t know where it originated, but if you google the phrase “no one brings you a casserole when” the auto-populate will fill in with nothing but mental health endings “your child is mentally ill”, “your husband goes to rehab”, “you have a mental breakdown”. (you also get a lot of casserole recipes, take note fellow Midwesterners!). This too is a problem. We rally around people when there’s sickness, injury, and the loss of life. We send flowers, bring food, visit, and send constant words and deeds of comfort and support. But when there is a mental breakdown, substance abuse, sexual assault, violence in the home, racial trauma, and anything else that profoundly affects the brain and emotional state, you quickly can and will find yourself on a shrinking island. Sometimes you’ll find even the people who are closest to you pulling away because they just don’t know how and where to engage and are terrified of saying the wrong thing.
How do we change it? Slowly, deliberately, and with intention. If it were easy, it would have already happened. We all need to make small changes to add up to the bigger ones that ultimately lead to profound and real change. Here’s a few suggestions to get the conversation started:
Assume everybody is going through something that is less than ideal, at all times. Work challenges, relationship struggles, dealing with feelings of inadequacy, depression, or anxiety. You don’t need to be a therapist, just be human and ask the question “How are you doing?” and mean it, be ready to listen, ask clarifying questions, and be OK if someone says something to the effect of ‘I’m not doing great, but I don’t really want to talk about it”. The simple answer in that situation is “I am here for you, if and when you want to talk”. Don’t make the assumption that someone who presents perfection, success, and happiness isn’t just great at wearing that mask. None of us has all of our shit together and we all just lived through two years of giant global mental health crisis that we are now all actively ignoring. Finish this sentence, call a friend, and ask “how are you doing, is everything Ok with you right now?”
Ask for help. I am addressing this one to everyone but in particular to my fellow menfolk. Most of us had role models and socialization galore that led us to believe that our worth is tied up in being the pillar, having all the answers, choking it down, keeping it to ourselves. Many of us had our most influential role models, our fathers, show the emotional range of a bowling ball, heard from an early age “boys don’t cry” and were given permission to have exactly two emotions, happiness and anger. There’s a whole lot of other emotions and most of them are pretty great, but the only way to access them is to open up and share them with others. Go ahead and be sad, elated, surprised, fearful. Men can and should cry. The alternative is that we keep dying 5.5 years sooner than the women in our lives on average. The stats on life expectancy alone, should be enough to have any guy reading this have a good cry, it feels good and it’s good for you!
Challenge your company. If the place you work does not offer mental health care through your insurance plan, demand it. You may not need it now, you may never need it, but if and when you do, you want it covered under your insurance plan. Mental health care is hard to find and if on your own, can be so expensive that it’s an obstacle that can’t be overcome for most. Public mental health care is less than ideal in the U.S. This will take a long time to fix, push the company you work for to do better by the people who need these valuable medical services now, it may not be you, but chances are a co-worker you are super fond of needs the help right now.
Lastly and maybe the hardest one (at least for me) be kind to yourself. Work on eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, and creating balance with work, life, family, and hobbies. We all have that little voice in our head that is constantly telling us we aren’t enough, reminding us of the embarrassing thing we did in 5th grade, and trying to sabotage our happiness at all times. That voice is an asshole! Ignore it if you can or remind it that there is another voice inside that knows you are awesome, that mistakes are fleeting and can be recovered from, and that you are working hard every day to be the best person you can be. When you manage to pull off all of the things in this section, you can move on to the real fun…
…helping others. Talk to family, friends, and colleagues, ask how they’re doing, see how you can help, even if just by listening and asking great questions. Go volunteer, offer your time and energy to others. Use your wisdom and experience to be a mentor at work or out in your community. The world has problems, you can be part of the solution and as a side benefit in study after study, people who volunteer regularly report better mental, emotional, and even physical health. My mom used to tell me that I have an obligation to leave the world a slightly better place than I found it. If we all work on that slightly, magic will happen, I promise.
Thanks for reading, please comment below for any tips you have on managing stress and mental health and remember that this is a journey we are all on together, be willing and ready to listen and be heard, help and be supported, and give and receive love. We are always better together.
- Dave Dyson