Mental Health Awareness Week: Mental health in the modern world – Scott’s Story

It is day two of Mental Health Awareness week, I hope that you have seen Angharad’s story which was posted yesterday, if you haven’t yet read it yet please do so and share it with anyone you think would like to read it. 

As a brief re-cap; I have wanted to look at mental health from other perspective’s for a while, I spoken to some people in who are part of my life in varying degrees and who I know have had or still have times of struggling with poor mental health and asked them if they would speak to me about their experiences, I have been touched and honoured at how open and honest people were when sharing their accounts and it has been truly eye opening. But beyond that, each person I spoke to felt that sharing their experience with me and the readers it was worth something important if it reached just one person and helped them in their own struggles, it is certainly something I have always believed to be true. I will be posting a different interview each day for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018. 

Today we hear from a dear friend of mine, you have heard plenty from me as a millennial woman but how does it feel for a millennial man to live with depression and anxiety in a modern world? What are the pressures and pre-conceptions applied to men and their place in society and in the world and how does it feel when, as a man, they begin to struggle? There has been some recent campaigning to raise awareness of depression in men, but Scott, who is my age, has shared an insight into his life and speaks eloquently about how actually, we are still not as supportive of men with poor mental health as we are with women. We are getting there but we still have a way to go.

I am so grateful for his bravery and candidness, it has become very evident to me how society puts added pressure on men to be all of those stereotypical masculine things like strong and brave and tough. There is an overwhelming pressure to never be ‘weak’ and this ludicrous notion that emotional intelligence can never be a sign of bravery, strength or toughness. 

As with the last interview, this one follows the format which uses three questions to guide Scott’s story. 

When do you think your struggle to maintain good mental health started and when in relation to that did realise how it was affecting you?

It’s really difficult to pin point when I started to struggle maintaining a good and healthy state of mind. I always thought I had a handle on things, consciously trying to hold myself together whilst all the while knowing something felt different “upstairs”. I remember, a good few years ago now, I was going through some personal issues that I wanted to keep, well, personal. Looking back, I was clearly bottling up a lot of emotions, concerns and anxieties that I saw as weaknesses. I’m a go getter and an opportunist, so anything that showed the people around me that I might be vulnerable or “weak,” as I saw it, was not a priority it was best hidden and I hid a lot of stuff from my friends and my family. Not saying a word and trying day by day to paint that smile on my face, but that made things even more difficult in dealing with everything that was going around in my head. 

I was suppressing everything that was going on in my head, using my insecurities and demons as motivation to look better and feel better, but that was only on the surface and it started to really effect my work. I began to feel consumed by the things I was telling myself in my head and in turn began to lose control of my own true persona and how I interacted with people. I constantly felt dragged down, with 0% positivity – which for those who know me is the polar opposite of my character. It wasn’t until my boss sat me down and asked, if everything was going OK, was I happy at work? Was family life OK? ‘Of course’, I nodded and said those two words everyone says when they are feeling the exact opposite, “I’m fine”.  My manager knew instantly this was the case and she actually detailed how much the quality of my work had severely declined and how my interactions with my colleagues and work mates had completely changed. Harsh, right? – Especially for someone whose insecurities were taking over their lives. But in actual fact it was wake up call for me. This was the point where I felt mentally and physically riddled with serious anxiety and knew without a doubt that I had to change things before I could possibly do something ridiculous to myself.  

What was the societal norm for your generation and gender and how have societies changing views made you feel about your mental health?

Millennials are always perceived to be the “tech” generation, born in the late 80’s and living through the evolution of technology, social media and the World Wide Web. We are the ones that are expected to educate other generations on how we should be moving the world forward — both men and women alike as equals. Yet our generation still faces, and is challenged by the choices made by the past and our older generations. In the 21st century we are battling equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community and the gender pay gap to name but a few. These are challenges our generation are not just expected, but meant to fix. So, the pressure is on for millennials to save the world! There’s a lot to do with little time for our generation to really take the time to take care of our mental health. 

My perception of the world’s currently awareness, is that there is a definite focus on supporting women’s mental health, from supporting women through domestic abuse or sexual abuse to dealing with serious illnesses, disorders and many other root causes that drive bad mental health, and in my opinion its great that we encourage women in these situations to be stronger and empower them to talk and speak out! This has become the norm within the media, and its great that so much support is shown for girls and women of all ages. My challenge to the world would be, “Why do we not show the same level of support for the male population of the world?”

Men, particularly of my generation, are just as vulnerable to bad mental health as women. Topics such as male suicide and depression aren’t talked enough about in the media. Being a man that is exposed to the mainstream media, be it news, advertising or social media, it makes me personally feel like I should be conforming to the typical male stereotype of being strong minded and confident. This is why, I found it hard to speak out about my battles. I believed that I should be a certain way when in fact, I should be speaking out and embracing the insecurities that were driving fuelling my anxiety. I am starting to see more of a focus on men’s mental health and encouraging men to speak up just as much as women are now. I’m seeing storylines incorporated into popular soaps, regular discussions on panel shows — all driving a positive view on getting men to speak up about their mental health issues. 

How do you manage your mental health now and if you could say anything to yourself in the worst bout of your bad mental health, what would it be?

Nowadays, I know how to maintain much better mental health than I used to. I‘ve identified my triggers and placed the trip wires that help me tame the gorilla in my head so to speak. There are all manner of techniques I’ve tried and tested but I think the best thing I learnt, coming out the other side, was to make sure that whatever I tried, worked for me. If it didn’t, I simply tried something different. I tried meditation, reading self-help books and listening to calming music (all slightly cliché I know) but I actually discovered that I needed to take my mind completely away from the root cause. If I didn’t, it would leach on my emotions and send me into overdrive, firing my anxiety more and more like fuel to the fire. For me, I’ve found being active is a really tangible way for me to manage my anxiety. Running or lifting weights or cross training refocuses my head and allows to keep in tune with my body. I’ve learnt to really listen to my body and focus on the way it moves, where I feel strain and in turn I’ve learnt how to leverage my recovery. This was so key for me and even to this day, I use muscle recovery to help recuperate after a panic attack or seizure. They’re never great, as anyone will tell you, but it fills me with confidence that I know exactly how I should rest and mend after them in order to become stronger in the future. Most importantly, it keeps me in total control, something I was terrified I would never retain in these situations. 

If I could go back and sit down with myself in the darkest of moments (and there were some dark moments) I’m not sure what I would say to be honest. All I can picture myself doing is sitting with my old self, talking my Old Scott’s hand or putting an arm around myself just to let Old Scott know that he’s not the only one in world going through this and that he will come through the other side a fighter and stronger than he ever thought he could be.

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