Emotions Have No Gender

Saturday 03 July 2021

In last month’s blog post, I brought up the prevalence of mental health, and chronic illness in general, as May was Mental Health Awareness Month. As June has been Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, for this month’s post I would like to delve a little further into this subject and bring much needed recognition to how important it is for men to speak out about their emotions and mental health, especially when it comes to adding in chronic illness.

Feminism is most definitely my second favourite ‘F’ word. I am a strong woman who wants to see women treated with equality and respect in society, economy and politics; this, however, also means I believe that equality is key. So, with that said, I really think it is imperative that everyone understands and supports men’s mental health to make the subject less taboo and equal; after all, gender has nothing to do with mental health problems, it is a human condition, not gender specific.

I would also like to state for the purpose of this blog post that I am an ally of the LGBTQI+ community and try my best to always make sure I am using the correct terminology and addressing pronouns etc. correctly, but if I do make any mistakes, they are not with malicious intent and I am willing to learn and grow. In this article I will use the terms ‘male’ and ‘men’s’ and this should be taken as anyone who identifies or presents as a man or male, regardless of biology.

 

Why is Men’s Mental Health Awareness so important?

 

When researching this subject, I found the estimated figures to tell quite a shocking tale.

Three times as many men as women die from suicide in the UK, with men between the ages of 40 and 49 having the highest suicide rate.
Men are less likely to access psychological therapies compared with women.
Only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men.
Nearly three quarters of adults who go missing are men and 87% of rough sleepers are men.
Men are up to three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol and drug use.
Men are more likely to become compulsorily detained or ‘sectioned’ for treatment than women.
One in eight men in the UK have a common mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or panic disorders.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, in 2017 alone, 6,000 suicides were recorded, of which a staggering 75% were men.

I was shocked when I learned of all of these figures, to think that in this day and age, that men could feel that the heavy societal expectations and traditional ‘gender roles’ are still so prevalent that a man suffering from mental health issues is more inclined to feel that the only way out is suicide. I understand it and I resonate with it; typical stereotypes of what a woman should be, do, wear, look like are still at an all-time high and they can be significantly damaging, so it’s only reasonable then to think that men can be damaged by the stereotypes put upon them.

Depression in men can present itself much more aggressively than it generally does for woman: some symptoms, such as irritability, anger, increased risk-taking and aggression, are more common to men than they are for woman. Men are more prone to feeling like they have to adopt a more escapist route for their problems because of the societal expectations such as ‘You’re not a real man if you talk about your feelings’ and one of the terms I despise the most of ‘Just man up’, and this can make them turn to substance abuse.

When I was thinking about all of this after reading more about Men’s Mental Health, it got me to thinking about the M.E. and Chronic Illness Community and how if we really reflect on it, men are quite under-represented in it, as most people seem to expect women to have these chronic illnesses, largely due to it being a 4:1 ratio of women to men being affected by it more. In the studies that have been done within regards to M.E. research, there has also been evidence to suggest that significant differences have been present between men and women who suffer from M.E.

According to an article by M.E. Research UK, these were the main significant differences:

  1. Although the most common triggering factor for most patients with M.E. was infection, more men reported an initial infectious factor at 26.9% versus 13% for women.
  2. Men had been diagnosed at a younger age than woman, 43 versus 47, and had become ill at an early age also.
  3. More men were single, 31% versus 16%, and more described as ‘skilled workers’, 32% versus 20%.
  4. Overall, 18.5% of men had a family history of chronic pain compared with 27.9% of women, although there were no differences in their family history of illnesses.
  5. The major clinical differences between men and women were in immune and muscular symptoms. Women had a worse score for physical function, physical role and overall physical health in assessing quality of life.

I wanted to get a male perspective for this article and for me, there was no one better to talk to and ask questions to than my husband Dan. Dan and I have been together for ten years, married for seven and have two boys together, who as of writing this blog post are 5 and 3. Dan is Neurodiverse: he was only diagnosed a few years ago with High Function Autism/ADHD and also has dyslexia. Dan also became my sole carer in the first few years of me becoming ill and still cares for me in aspects now as well as being the main income source for our family. For someone without any neurological differences, this would be a heavy load to bear, but Dan has never faltered for me or our family. When I got ill I was 25 and Dan was only 23 years old and yet there he was, sitting me up, picking me up when I fell or fainted, helping me drink and eat, driving me to and attending appointments with me, and holding me when I left those appointments in tears of sadness, anger and frustration.

Dan’s main source of inspiration for being a husband and father came for his own dad, Stuart ‘Hathi’ Hanslow, who tragically passed away in January 2011 from Sporadic CJD, a few months before I met Dan.

His Grandpa, Stanley Hanslow, and his Grandfather, Jack Ridgway, were also men that stood by Dan and taught him lessons that he is only now realising were lessons.

 

Your dad was your role model growing up; what did you learn from him about being emotive and opening up about your feelings?

My dad didn’t really open up to me personally about his feelings growing up; I just found it easier to talk to him over my mum because he made it more comfortable to talk to him. He managed to make it feel less serious and I could relate to him easier too. Even though he didn’t open up much to me, he still made me feel like it was okay to talk about my feelings or say if I ever had a problem without any judgement.


When your dad tragically passed, you were told by relatives that you were ‘the man of the family now’. Do you feel this put pressure on you and your mental health and did you feel it halted how long you were allowed to grieve?

I don’t even think at the time I had properly started grieving when told this. It was pretty much the day after he passed that the first people started saying that to me so I didn’t even really feel like I had gotten to the point of starting to process what had happened, never mind grieve. I did feel it put a lot of pressure on me but I was angrier that people didn’t correct those that said it; after all, I was a 20-year-old who had just lost my dad who was also my hero and best friend. It shouldn’t have been allowed to have been said to me.


Being someone who is neurodiverse, how do you feel your mental health is in general?

I don’t know if I’m actually fully aware of how it is as it does fluctuate. Even when I was diagnosed with depression in the past, I didn’t within myself really feel that I was depressed. I think, though, that this may be due to my mindset, as it is very situational and environmental.


As said, you have been, understandably, diagnosed with depression in the past. When you got this diagnosis how did it make you feel?

I had actually gone to the doctor for something completely different, and while I was there he asked me some questions and gave me a diagnosis of depression from those. I felt mostly indifferent: it was a case of ‘Oh, okay, that might explain a few things and maybe these tablets might help me.’ I took his advice as he is, after all, the medical professional but I wasn’t sure it was needed.


Did you feel you got understanding and support from medical professionals at this time?

No. It really was a case of ‘I think you are depressed’ and I got a prescription for anti-depressants. There was no follow up advised or any plan for if the anti-depressants didn’t start to help.


You are a wonderful dad and role model for our two sons and you have been a very involved parent. What would you say to them in regards to opening up about their feelings and about the stigma of ‘boys don’t cry’?

I’ve never really thought there was a stigma of ‘boys don’t cry’; I have known others who have been affected by it but personally, I never was told this. I would never impose it on our boys. Everyone has and is entitled to their own feelings; I know more than anybody that people process situations and emotions differently. Not everybody knows how to properly process them either, so I would encourage them to talk about their feelings and problems as it’s the best way of getting through it.


We’ve been through a lot since I was diagnosed with my illnesses in 2013 and you have never faltered. How has it been for you caring for me and watching me go through it all?

It has been difficult watching you go through it because there is nothing I can do about it; I want to take it away and I can’t. It sometimes puts you in positions and situations that without the illness you would never be in, and that, too, is difficult. In regards to helping to care for you, I wouldn’t do it any other way. At the end of the day I love you and care about you and if I can help, why wouldn’t I? I also have no doubt that you have held an awful lot back to spare my feelings as that in turn is who you are: you protect me and our boys.


How much of a toll do you feel having a chronically ill wife has on your own mental health? Do you feel you have held back a lot of your emotions to protect me from them in this regard?

Personally, I wouldn’t really say I’ve held back as with the way I am, at least I think, generally, I act dependent on my feelings at the time. I never had and never will have any kind of resentment towards you or the situation. In regards to my own mental health, I think for the most part, I don’t want to seem like it gets me too down as I don’t want it to come across that you being ill makes me sad. It is more the affect the illnesses have on you that makes me sad. I think also, you do more than you probably feel you are able to do most of the time and as said, you don’t always show us exactly how you are feeling, so you save me from a lot of strain and pressure. 

 

I am very proud of this conversation with Dan as we have had many private, in-depth talks over the years but for him, this is a monumental step as he doesn’t easily open up or talk about his feelings but when I approached him about this, he said if it helps someone out there to open up, get help or ask for support he would be willing to do it. I am incredibly proud of and thankful to Dan for this and for his input.

We see it all the time. The world all came together in shock on the sad day it was announced that comedian and actor, Robin Williams, had taken his own life. This was one of those moments when the words on everyone’s lips were ‘But…He was always so happy! You’d never have guessed it.’

Life can get you down, no matter who you are and how you identify yourself; we all feel the pressures of daily living and all of our situations are different. We might be able to relate to one another but ultimately, we are the only ones who know how we feel and how we are coping with a situation. What’s right for one person isn’t always right for another. Depression isn’t constant melancholy, it’s not constantly crying or not being able to smile; in fact, most of us who have been depressed or suffered from mental health issues will try with all our might to show the world that we are ‘fine’. Please bear this in mind with those you love, no matter who they are or what expectations you’ve come to have of them in their roles in your life. We all need to accept each other first and foremost as humans and remove any stereotypes that have been generated over the years.

If you are worried about anyone, but in particular a male friend, co-worker or family member, there are people who can help and listen. A GP is the first point of call for anyone who isn’t in immediate danger or needing emergency care. For information and advice there is always the wonderful Mind charity for all mental health issues. There are websites specifically oriented to male mental health such as Men’s Health and CALM.

Feelings make you human, they do not mean you are weak, they do not mean you are less worthy and most of all, they are not to be ignored.