I read in the Huffington Post that two in every five men in England, Scotland and Wales aged 20-59 do not seek support (for mental ill health) when they need it. The survey on which the story is based was carried out by the Samaritans who know a thing or two about mental health issues. It reveals, unsurprisingly, that men don’t want to be a burden or feel their issues will be understood. They’re right to feel that way.
One reason they don’t seek support is because there’s very little of it out there. In my local area, the waiting list for mental health therapies is between six and fourteen months. My wait was at the latter end and even then I had to travel regularly halfway across Bristol to receive it. I was, I suppose, lucky because I have a car and I work part time and it was relatively simple to accommodate my needs in order to have treatment. I know of countless stories where people have not been so fortunate.
It is far easier to simply withdraw from life or many aspects of it, to prefer to stay at home, often alone, at a place in which you feel safe. People say you should engage more socially, to exercise more, to look after yourself better in terms of food and drink; just get out more. Your mentally ill person knows all that. However, because depression is an illness and not just a passing thought, he cannot bring himself to do any of these things. He cannot conclude that he needs the exercise and so attend a gym if his legs feel like lead and his brain feels like paper mache. Imagine telling someone who had cancer to just get better and think how stupid that might sound.
The reality for most men who are struggling is a trip to a busy GP – always assuming you can get an appointment – and find yourself prescribed drugs which you fear you will be on for life. Depending on where you live – that postcode lottery, again – you might be offered a mental health assessment before you go on a waiting list. Unless your condition is observed to be life-threatening, you can be sure drugs will be your first option. I know people who have been on anti-depressants for years and have completely given up on the idea they might one day receive mental health therapy. When they feel worse, they get a higher does of drugs.
Situation hopeless, in my opinion. Only a handful of MPs appear to give a toss, among them the Lib Dem Norman Lamb and the excellent Luciana Berger, who was recently bullied out of the Labour Party by vile anti-Semites. The rest are consumed by Brexit or personal ambition, sometimes both. The promises by Theresa May to treat mental health equally with physical health were, as ever, nothing more than empty soundbites, as you would expect from a here today, gone tomorrow third rate politician.
Men will continue to self-harm and even kill themselves and a blinkered nation looks straight ahead as if to say “Pull yourself together”. In the 21st century it is wise not to fall ill with mental health conditions. For most of the time, you are still on your own.
Footnote: I am aware that this blog is all about men. Women too suffer from mental illness. I promise I have not forgotten you.