My Own Experience
While I am comfortable talking about my mental health today, I know that I’ve also had feelings of being 'less of a man' because of my mental health issues in the past. In addition to not feeling like a worthy person, I didn't feel like a worthy man. I didn't think that I was a strong male presence because of my lack of confidence, and it affected how I interacted with people. I think confidence can be equated with masculinity, and I thought that if I didn't have confidence, I wasn't much of a person, let alone much of a man. Part of having GAD is that I spent so much time looking ahead to the future, which would lead to immediately cutting myself down. If I wasn't much of a person, how could I be a good boyfriend, or husband one day? How could I raise a child when I thought so little of myself?
I had to separate my struggles from my worth as a man, as a person. It took a long time, but I was able to do it. It also involved surrounding myself with men who also could separate me from the struggles I faced. This is where society can fail men – and where men can fail themselves. If you're in an environment where you'll be emasculated if you bring up any form of weakness, it's virtually impossible to have any conversation about mental health. 'Toxic masculinity' is a fun buzzword to throw around when it comes to talking about intersectional topics, but it’s extremely important to remember when discussing men and mental health because of how real it is.
Changing the Culture
So, how can we change the way we talk about men and mental health? It starts with the ability to even have that conversation. It requires men to try to be honest when asked how we’re doing. And it’s important that when we’re trying to be honest, people are there not to judge, but to listen. Sometimes, people just want to be heard. To allow a conversation to occur, both sides have to put some of their own opinions aside and listen to what the other person has to say. I have been blessed to have some of the best male friends I could have asked for during stages of my life when I felt 'less than', and they had an enormous impact not only how I viewed myself as a man, but as a person as well.
Every single day, a new generation of young men are facing challenges and struggles that have nothing to do with their worthiness as men, and we need to let them know that it's okay. People let me know that it was okay, and it changed me for the better. But others are not as fortunate, and we have been complacent with a 'one-off' approach to discussing mental health. This conversation must be constant, because mental illness is constant; not everyone has the luxury of dealing with these issues every now and then. Until we can communicate to men that it's okay not to be okay, not much can change for the way men approach their own mental health issues.