Gender stereotypes are worsening experiences of mental health

Something’s different today.

I’m always angry about something. Whatever it is, whether something huge or something tiny, I don’t think a day’s passed where I haven’t burned with rage since about 1994. Today however, following the death of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington at the age of 41, I feel sad. Really fucking sad.

I have spent many days telling people to speak up when they’re feeling down. “Tell someone,” I preach. “It’s okay not to be okay,” I’ve flippantly written on Twitter. I’ve dished out advice to others but in reality knew myself that it just isn’t that easy.

I’ve written blogs about depression and have tried, albeit half-heartedly, to put it all out there. I support my friends and family when they’re in need, I encourage the fair treatment of those who need help, and I sing along to songs about finding hope in the darkest of times.

But that hope isn’t there, right now. It’s been a tough week already, for reasons we don’t need to get in to, but the passing of Chester Bennington is a reminder that it’s not easy to speak out when you’re struggling with your mental health.

Too often do people build up the courage to seek help over a period of years and are then put on lengthy waiting lists as the options for NHS treatment are already bursting at the seams.

For those who can afford it, private counsellors refuse treatment as they to are already fully booked all day, every day.

Emergency departments won’t accept patients unless they are in the midst of a suicide attempt or in severe danger at that present moment, because there is no space where they can go.

So we close our emotions in, keep them inside, and “carry on as normal”.

Struggling with your mental health is horrendous. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are losing control of your mind and struggling with your sense of self. The stress and sadness and desperation of being in that moment, trapped inside your own head, can be more devastating than anything physical.

As a woman, I find it difficult enough. My life should not be hard – I have a partner, a flat, and a job that I like – but it is. That said, on a day to day basis – aside from the bigger issues – I am able to access support when I need it, and that is because I’m a woman.

Female colleagues rally around each other when someone experiences grief or loss or sadness. We share bottles of wine, publicly hug each other, go out for dinner and talk it all out. We watch Bridget Jones’ Diary and feel like, regardless of how low we feel in that moment, that things will get better. While our emotions are too often seen as a sign of weakness and stop us progressing in areas like our careers, the strength women have when they rally together is incomparable. We care and we nurse and we fix things, as we have been taught to do.

For men, it is a different story. They are told to be tough, to be strong, not to “cry like a girl”. They’re encouraged to work hard and to play hard and never to take a break. They must be successful, independent, primary caregivers. They should “man up” when they feel sad and provide for their families instead. Because “that’s what men do”. In the media, men are berated for showing signs of weakness. Tennis player Marin Čilić for example was recently heavily criticised for crying during a match, overcome with emotion at a high-intensity, high pressure event.

The rates of male suicide continue to stay high because men – young ones, particularly – feel like they have nowhere to turn. So please, please, tell the men around you you love them. Let them know you care. Show them that they are entitled to the same care and attention as women and that they are not alone in their struggles.

The difficulties women face on a daily basis are not diminished or undermined by raising the importance of men’s mental health. Helping young boys grow up without harbouring anger and depression may even save another victim from a violent outburst or attack on the vulnerable. Equality is for everyone.

It’s time to start acknowledging this problem and stop treating people differently based on what you determine their gender to be. The more we speak about it, the more we can – hopefully – save some lives.

 

I took this photo from the band’s Facebook page. Please let me know if it should be removed or to whom it should be credited.

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