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Since opening up about my struggles with my mental health and launching Man Talk, (a mental health podcast for men), I’ve learnt a lot on the subject. However, I’m adamant I didn’t want to be an advice service. I wanted to provide a platform for men to listen and talk about mental health and help others to protect their mental health. Beyond telling people that talking is the first step in addressing mental health issues, I didn’t want to be in a position where I’d offer recommendations on medication, therapy or other treatments. I’m not a medical professional and I didn’t want to get it wrong.
I’ve never seen myself as an expert on the subject of men’s mental health – who is? Sure, professionals have training and qualifications, but mental health is such a broad issue. Also, mental health is such a personal issue. What I consider as anxiety might be very different to what someone else is experiencing. My suicidal thought process might differ wildly to that of another person who’s reached their lowest point.
Over the last few months, I’ve been seeing a private therapist, just to give me another outlet to talk about my own mental health. I mentioned to her that I have a podcast and am wary of coming across as someone with all the answers. As I said, I don’t have them. But she pointed out that I am an expert on me. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I know what triggers low moods and I have a good handle on how to get through those times. So, whilst I’m not an expert on mental health in a broader sense, I’m an expert on my own mental health and I’m happy to share some of the things that help me. They might resonate, they might not. You might see them as a complete waste of time, and that’s fair enough. There will be something out there that could work for you and a GP or a charity such as CALM, The Samaritans or Mind will be in a good position to advise you.
Here’s what helps me, and hopefully might help you:
As most people know, alcohol is a depressant. Sure, you might argue that statement when you’re drunk and dancing on a table to Come on Eileen. However for someone who already has depression, alcohol can simply mask the truth and deepen the eventual low mood. Don’t get me wrong, I love a drink and I haven’t cut it out completely. I’ve cut out alcohol during the week (as a couple, we used to drink wine with most evening meals.) As a result I’ve noticed an increase to my energy levels, better sleep and importantly, I feel a sense of pride in being able to do it.
I’ll reiterate, this is just what has helped me. Going for a beer with your mate on a quiet, lonely Tuesday evening might actually be the gateway you need to open up about your issues. Then again, it might not, so, as with everything, think about this on a personal level.
The negative side of social media and how it can affect our mental health is well publicised. There’s the time it takes, the potential judgement (even bullying), the unattainable lifestyle’s we feel pressured to match. Perhaps the most worrying; the way we value ‘likes’ from strangers. Whilst all that’s going on, we tend to ignore the real world, our wellbeing and simply ‘liking’ ourselves. Some time off from social media (and devices in general) in recent months has been a welcome relief for me. I’ve got to admit, I found it harder than cutting down on booze. Given my main income is through social media and writing; time away from my phone always left me feeling I was missing an opportunity to earn or network, causing unnecessary stress. I’ve noticed recently, a few people on Instagram, taking themselves away from the app for days, weeks and even months at a time to help their mental state. Instead, we initiated ‘Turn of Tuesday/Thursdays’, where no devices are allowed after 5pm. This might seem minor, but it’s been a big success, not just in terms of the mental health benefits, but also my relationship with my wife.
If something’s in my head and creating too much noise, I try and get it out by writing it down. I love lists – things to do, things I’ve done. I love keeping our calendar up to date. Perhaps there’s a hint of OCD to my methods, but if I can see something on a piece of paper, I can view it with some clarity. With less noise whizzing around my mind, I can then ensure there’s some space up there to consider anything else that might be affecting my mental state.
Having struggled with my mental health for a number of years, I’ve learnt that not every treatment, medication or alternative therapy is going to suit me. Over the years I’ve tried various anti-depressants, I’ve had one-on-one counselling, I’ve tried yoga, meditation. I’ve turned to the gym/running, I’ve had CBT, I’ve opened up to random people on the internet but not close friends. Through all of this, I’ve finally found a blend that works for me. I’m not suggesting skip from one pill to another, or see a different counsellor each week. All I’m proposing is that if things aren’t improving, perhaps look into an alternative solution rather than giving up. Also, give each treatment some time. For example, don’t assume just taking an anti-depressant is going to solve everything. They take at least 2-3 weeks to make an impact. Similarly, don’t assume rocking up to a yoga class on a Saturday morning is going to instantly change your life. All these things take time.
Possibly the most important book I’ve ever read. Matt manages to articulate what it’s like to have anxiety, depression and feel suicidal in a way I’ve been struggling to for years. Reading his short, sharp chapters left me feeling less alone. Finally someone was putting down on paper just how I felt. The book doesn’t really offer solutions, it’s not exactly a self-help book. However it details the thought process of someone struggling with their mental health, somehow seeing it in black and white offers some legitimacy to something that’s still so taboo. I can’t recommend this book enough. It will also make an enlightening read for anyone who’s close to someone with mental health issues. It’s the best account of what it’s like to have mental health issues that I’ve come across…
So, there we have it. Five of the many things that have helped me, but remember, the first step for anyone struggling with mental health is to talk.
I’m Jamie Day, aka A Day In The Life Dad. I’m dad to Edie and Arlo and married to Georgia. We live in the Berkshire countryside where we spend most of our time walking the dogs or dancing very badly to the Trolls soundtrack.
I’m an award-winning blogger, editor, freelance writer and social media consultant. In May this year, I launched my iTunes top 10 podcast, Man Talk (also available on most regular podcast platforms). The show sees me talking with men from various backgrounds on their experiences with mental health. I also talk openly about my own experiences with depression and anxiety. As I believe we’re at a pivotal point, where, with the power of social media, podcasts and YouTube, we can make a huge difference in removing stigmas associated with men’s mental health (and mental health in general).