Men's Health Week 2021 (Stuart's personal blog)
This week is Men’s Health Week – a week dedicated to raising awareness surrounding the health issues which affect men disproportionately and also to remind men of the importance of maintaining a healthy body and mind.
Mental and physical health are equally important. But for men, there are social expectations and gender stereotypes that often prevent them from opening up and discussing their health. With suicide being the leading cause of death for men in the UK under the age of 50 (with Northern Ireland having the highest rate overall), the conversation surrounding mental health is considered to be particularly neglected (Mental Health Foundation, 2019).
To encourage men to start talking, Danske Bank’s Stuart Millar has kindly shared his story.
Stuart’s journey began as a teenager.
I grew up with both my parents suffering from depression for years. Once I saw what they went through, I made the decision that I would not allow myself to suffer that way. As I moved into my twenties, I wouldn’t allow myself to talk about how I felt. When it came to a man’s mental health and wellbeing, my view was it didn’t really matter – it was the old stigma, “You’re a man, and we don’t talk about these things…if I don’t admit it, I’ll be fine”. So, I buried the feelings deep down and ignored them. This only worked for a short while, then everything would get too much. I would break down, but I still wouldn’t talk to anyone about it and hide the fact I was suffering. It was a vicious circle.
Meeting my wife, and starting our family made me double down on how I felt. I now had to be strong for my family and not talk about my feelings. Be the protector, the head of the household and the main provider. Even when my wife would try to get me to talk, I would be dismissive and tell her, “I’m fine”. As our family grew, I would continue to bury the feelings of not being good enough for my wife, kids or friends. I would also turn to drink when I felt low. Although this didn’t help and would cause arguments between my family and me, I thought “this is how you deal with it - have a drink and forget about it all”.
For about 18 months, things got really bad. Knowing that I was hurting my wife and three kids, made me feel worse and added to my low points. This led to me sitting alone in my living room at 2 am ready to end it all. Although I remember it, it felt like I was watching someone else. After sitting there for two hours, thankfully the sound of my daughter waking from her sleep crying jolted me out of my trance-like state. If this didn’t happen, I don’t believe I would be here today.
Looking back, that thought scares the life out of me - yet still, I didn’t get help at this point or tell anyone. My turning point wasn’t until last November. After going out with my best friend for a drink, I came home early, broke down to my wife and told her everything. I thought she may have thought less of me, or worse, that the way I was feeling was somehow her fault. But sharing how I was feeling made the decision, to take the step to get help and to contact my GP, much easier as we did it together. Once I finally opened up to my wife, it felt like a weight was lifted from me. Although I wasn’t in a better place straight away, I did feel so much better.
My road to recovery started, I called the doctor who prescribed medication and referred me to a therapist. I have started to take better care of myself by eating right, drinking less, taking up painting again and starting to meditate. I had never given too much stock to meditation before, but it has helped me so much and even now, my youngest son would sit and meditate with me. I have also decided to be more active by walking every day. It helps keep my head clear and provides a target to aim for. To support AWARE, I chose to walk 25 miles around Danske’s Belfast branches to mark their 25th year. I have always tried to do at least one thing for Danske’s charity partner each year, but once I knew our partner was AWARE, I wanted to do something big as it’s a charity that I believe in greatly. I wanted to show that this is very close to my heart, not just for me, but for my friends and family who have suffered.
Although I still experience low days, these are few and far between. My relationship has improved drastically with my family and I now feel like I can take a step back before I react to situations, which helps. I also try to talk to anyone I can about addressing the issue - my friends, and even my sons, to show them the importance of talking and not burying how you feel. I wanted to share my story to show no matter how dark it gets, there is always hope. You will always be able to get help when you need it, sometimes from the unlikeliest source - it could be a social post, a text from a mate you haven’t seen in a while or someone simply asking if you’re okay, which can trigger you to talk.
If you would like to support Stuart’s 25-mile walk in aid of AWARE, click here
If you are on a similar journey as to what Stuart has described and would like to attend one of our peer-led support groups to talk to people in the same place as yourself and to discuss ways forward, then please click here: www.aware-ni.org/lets-talk