READER REPORT:

Ditch the 'man up' mentality

ZANE SMALL
Last updated 15:50 26/01/2017
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Am I being a "snowflake"? Who has the right to say? One thing’s for sure: it’s not uncommon to feel isolated.

Do we discriminate against mental illness?

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Do we discriminate against mental illness?

Mental illness: 'I feel like a prisoner in my own mind' Ditch the 'man up' mentality Depression is like an emotional cancer Don't fear me because I'm bipolar Our knowledge of depression is still limited Depression is just another illness The black dog no-one wants to own 'I was unprepared for the armchair haters' 'Work and Income needs to treat us as humans' It's all in my head, they say

I’d like to see the oppressed mentality towards mental health reversed.

In Rosa Woods' column for Stuff, 'Men, it’s time to talk', she exerts the idea that most men do not feel comfortable with opening up, and “admit they would rather overcome personal issues by themselves".

Speaking from experience growing up in New Zealand, a hyper-masculine culture, I know this to be true.

Frequent reports of high suicide rates are treated as something to be swept under the rug.

READ MORE:
* Depression is like an emotional cancer

* Don't fear me because I'm bipolar
* Our knowledge of depression is still limited

Even as I write this, I feel a familiar sense of shame for bringing to light a topic that many would regard as trivial, or part of the "snowflake" mentality.

In October 2016, the Coroner’s office released the annual provisional suicide statistics for New Zealand, which showed 579 people died by suicide in the 2015/16 year.

The Coroner's office said in a press release that this was the “highest number of suicide deaths since provisional statistics were first recorded for the 2007/08 year, and follows last year’s total of 564, which was then the highest total".

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Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said there needed to be more discussion about suicide prevention.

I’d like to see the oppressed mentality towards mental health reversed in coming generations by speaking more openly about it – altering the negative perception many of us harbour towards anxiety and depression.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve come face-to-face with these issues, I’m sure you can relate to them in some way.

No doubt you will have a friend, sibling, parent or colleague that struggles with internal conflict. Perhaps you aren’t even aware of it.

I was never confident enough to pursue help for my anxiety. As a teenager, I was clearly plagued by it. At school I was painfully shy, and as an adult, I’ve learnt that many others suffered from similar issues growing up, but were too afraid to speak out.

To this day, I often find it difficult to relax – especially to fall asleep – in the presence of another person.

As a quiet teenager, unable to comfortably exert myself, casually being invited to a high school party sent shockwaves of excitement through me. It was a chance to interact, with the added bonus of alcohol-induced confidence, a rare opportunity to prove to people that I was more than what my shyness represented.

Fitting in seemed very important. I didn’t want anyone to know I was feeling lost, because that was a sign of weakness.

I’ve changed a lot since then. Come 2017, the last thing on my mind is socialising for the purpose of feeling accepted. There was a time when fitting in with people was all that mattered to me – a characteristic of low self-esteem.

Those desires have since passed, as my own selfishness has taken centre-stage. My social ineptness is kept safe in my solitude, and interaction is reserved for close friends, family, and work situations.

Am I overanalysing things? Am I being a "snowflake"? Who has the right to say?

One thing’s for sure: it’s not uncommon to feel isolated and indifferent to people, which is why I think it’s important to share these stories – especially as a male.

Even those we admire and look up to aren’t immune to anxiety, depression, and the urge to seek help.

I found it refreshing when Kid Cudi, an artist, announced publicly to his fans that he had checked himself into rehab for depression. He wrote on Facebook: “I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too".

With suicide rates increasing among young people (it’s the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, according to The Jason Foundation), it begs the question: are we entering an “epidemic of mental illness”?

In an article for The Guardian, journalist George Monbiot suggests that we are. He blames neo-liberalism for the creation of a world of loneliness that’s “wrenching” society apart.

We’re exposed to so many social pressures throughout our lives, he explains, that often the only thing left to do is shy away from the world and bend under the weight.

I like to think that as a society we can collectively reverse the negative stigma associated with mental health by being more open and accepting – particularly so that young people don’t feel pressured to ignore or bury internal hardship like I did.

After all, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, aids, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.

READ MORE:
* Depression is just another illness
* The black dog no-one wants to own
* 'I was unprepared for the armchair haters'
* 'Work and Income needs to treat us as humans'

In my teens I attempted to mask my issues by turning to heavy drinking and late nights, which only increased my anxiety. Frustration gnawed at me because my priorities had switched from social acceptance to fierce fears of the future.

Shifting my life to another country made a huge difference – it forced me to put things into perspective and appreciate what I had. After two years abroad, I’ve been living a much more isolated life than I used to.

I still feel a strong desire to shy away, and that holds me back from developing as a person. But I’ve managed to edge away from the stagnation and repetition that caused a lot of my anxiety in the first place, enabling me to form a fresh perspective.

I would encourage everyone to come to terms with their internal issues and face them head-on. Accept them and embrace them. Take a chance and experiment with change.

Be aware of the effects your decisions have on the people around you, and respect their feelings. Appreciate and hold on to those who you can open up to, and ditch the people who tell you to “man up”, and give yourself the chance to live peacefully.

After all, “to exist is to survive unfair choices".


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