What advice would a man give other men who are experiencing mental health issues? And how can family or friends support?
Five SANE Peer Ambassadors share their tips. Advice for men, from men, who know what it's like to live with and manage a mental illness.
Cameron: If you have a regular GP, start there. If not, start with one you can trust. There are many and you don’t have to go with the first available. The GP will have a list of trusted services and professionals who are literally there to heal you.
Jay: Explore your options (there are more than there used to be), shop around so you are comfortable with the service you're offered. Ask as many questions as you need to. Medication can be helpful, but beware the psychiatrist who just up's and down's medication. On the support side, SANE Forums are fantastic to share your thoughts and feelings with people who are living with a mental illness. It's anonymous so you can get all those thoughts and feelings out. Above all, go with your gut feeling. You know yourself better than anyone!
Tim: When I first sought treatment I spoke to my parents (I was 20 at the time). I was then referred by the family GP to a psychiatrist. The process was a little daunting, however finally talking to somebody about my symptoms was a great relief. One thing I didn’t do was talk to my family and friends about my illness and treatment, as I was embarrassed. I would advise people to keep family and friends updated with how treatment is going, letting them in is part of the recovery process.
Jesse: Seek professional help. Talk to your family about it. I think my family knew something was going on, but it wasn't until I started to learn more about my symptoms that they could connect to my illness and understand. Don't be ashamed. Have the confidence to talk to your friends about it. It's best when your out doing an activity, mention 'I've been struggling a bit and not sure whats going on.' Good fiends are willing to listen. It really helps to get it off your chest. Put yourself out there. It's hard as blokes, traditionally we're not that good at it. But if you have the friendship group, just trust them and put yourself out there.
Greg: Initially, treatment was forced upon me - so I didn’t have much choice in it - I was acutely unwell. Later, though, I spoke with my GP, sought advice from others with lived experience, and even used Google with success. Put simply, try to find someone you feel comfortable with, can respect and trust.
Cameron: Making the decision to seek help came from a very close friend. I was certain that I didn’t need it. I thought I could easily fix this myself. His response was...'mate, you are trying to fix yourself with the very instrument that is broken.' That was the turning point.
Tim: I sought help as I simply couldn’t cope with the OCD anymore, having lived with the illness since age seven. Hearing family and friends discuss their own mental health problems would have helped me open up earlier.
Greg: Although re-reading my own letters and emails can sometimes be painful, they serve as a terrific marker for my mental state at various points. Remembering is definitely a useful tool for developing insight. Then it’s possible to seek help and keep on top of my symptoms.
Jesse: It was really after I started visiting my psychologist that I traced the timeline of my mental health. That forced me to look and see the triggers that were there and try to work out how my fluctuating mental state and bipolar had flared up over my lifetime. This made me realise the bipolar had been an effect my whole life. This includes binge-drinking from my teens.
Jay: For me being in the right job helped immensely. I'd been in and out of jobs my whole life. Doing jobs I hated just to have an income. I moved into the disability sector where I was valued and the job as a carer gave more meaning to my life. There were many times I could have called in sick due to my mental health, but that fact that the people I looked after needed me brought out my strength and pride. I didn't want to let them down. So, if you're in a job that triggers mental anguish, try and find something you love to do, even if your capacity is only part-time. Not easy, I know, but worth it.
Cameron: If you’re reading this because you desperately want to help someone, your sincerity right now is enough to begin. Make it honest and make sure they know it. They’ll be apprehensive, so think of the one thing you can say or do that will remind them to trust you.
Tim: I would say just bring it up, don’t be scared to raise the topic of mental illness. Not everybody is prepared to accept they have a problem, but never give up, keep reminding them help is available. Remember people are at different stages of acceptance when it comes to mental illness.
Greg: Be gentle, tactful and honest. Also, show respect and allow the person room for dignity. Circumstances may worsen before an improvement. Later, if they're able to reflect, hopefully they'll recall your concern and be grateful you took notice and were courageous enough to speak up.
Jesse: Just really push the question 'are you ok?' And rather than accepting 'yeah I'm good', say I've seen you struggling a bit and encourage them to talk about it. Find a suitable forum to talk about it - go fishing, play golf - situations where you're able to do something and talk at the same time. Share your story too. You have to show something of yourself before someone else will open up.
Jay: If somebody admits to having depression it's best not to ask why - often we don't know why. I found when people listen to me it helps. We don't always need advice, or want it. Sometimes it's so scary not knowing why we don't feel ourselves, we may not want to share those feelings even with the ones we trust. Just knowing a loved one is there when we do want to talk can be as important as the talk itself. If you know the person well, you will know the best approach to take.
Remember if you feel something is 'not quite right' the most important thing to do is see your GP, contact a helpline, or talk to someone you trust.
If you want to discuss any concerns you may have about your mental health, or the health of a loved one, the SANE counselling support provides information, guidance, and referral to help you respond. Contact counsellors on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or online.
For a supportive online community, where you can chat anonymously with others who get it, visit SANE's online Forums. There for you 24/7.