Can we stop genderising mental health please?

Boys don’t cry.

Whereas girls, we can spit and cry and tell everyone we work with that our world is falling apart, confess that we can’t cope and have full on mental breakdowns without worrying about the consequences because hey, we’re female.

We all have totally understanding bosses who always have time for us and act as a shoulder to cry on and colleagues who won’t bitch or whisper about us behind our backs when we get time off for ‘so-called stress’.

We have partners and friends and families who don’t mind if we snap at them and behave completely irrationally because it’s just part of who we are and it’s acceptable because we have vaginas. 

It’s kind of not like that, at all. And that, quite simply, is why I get a bit frustrated when mental health is something that we feel has to be talked about as something which is either male or female. Mental health is genderless, it doesn’t discriminate and stigma remains just as much with women as it does men.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of; neither is talking about it. We know by now that when it comes to mental health, it’s not always easy to talk but it is most definitely good to talk.

We’re getting better at speaking out, sharing stories and being more open an honest about mental health problems, but it’s still so much easier to say we’re ‘fine’ than whatever else it is that we’re feeling. The majority of us would rather all those around us got on with their lives in the knowledge that we’re ok than let anyone know that we’re not superhuman. Nobody is fine all the time.

There have been loads of campaigns to encourage us to speak out openly about mental health and, thankfully, things have changed dramatically. MPs, sports personalities and celebrities now often speak publicly about their own experiences and those of loved ones and this is ALL GOOD, let’s keep it going. 

Most recently, male suicide charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) have teamed up with the guys that brought us Lynx Africa to promote #BiggerIssues, a campaign driven by the worrying truth behind male suicide: that over a third (42%) of British men aged 18 to 45 say they have contemplated taking their own lives. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death for men of that age group, it is a national medical emergency and we NEED to do something about it. The statistics speak for themselves and for most, it’s shocking to hear that it is more common for a man to take his own life than to die of cancer or any other physical illness. I find it pretty annoying that Professor Green, patron of CALM, is now a poster boy for mental health when it’s not that long since he made jokes about Bulimia and commented that his now wife Millie Mackintosh is ‘thinsperational’, but that personal grudge aside, the campaign is getting male suicide talked about, which is no bad thing. 

But loads of women are sad, scared and suicidal too.

There’s a massive push to tell men that they don’t have to ‘man up’ and the headlines reflect the sad truth that many more men do die as a result of suicide than women. What we don’t often read or hear though, is that more women think about and attempt suicide, and in western societies, overall rates of mental health disorders tend to be around 20-40% higher for women than for men. There is no such thing as a ‘failed suicide’ – every single attempt is an act of complete desperation and it’s unhealthy to think otherwise. There is ongoing research into why male suicide rates are higher; impulsivity, intention, method etc, but the fact that anyone even contemplates suicide should be just as worrying.

We need to address the situation that we all struggle and that, regardless of gender, age, sexuality or whatever else, we all need to look out for each other and create places and relationships in which it is ok to not be ok.

Visit www.biggerissues.co.uk for more information on the campaign.

Visit www.thecalmzone.net for more information on CALM.

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One thought on “Can we stop genderising mental health please?

  1. Very well said. But the flip side is that when women are mentally distressed, it is often dismissed as ‘just being hormonal’ or ‘being a woman’ and therefore trivialised. It is not ok to see a woman as ‘neurotic’ or ‘histrionic’ when depressed, suffering with an ED, whatever. I think the wider debate is about us all learning to take one another seriously and validate what can be very difficult feelings. And you are right, that matters regardless of our gender. If you aren’t aware of the ‘Only Us’ campaign @onlyus on Twitter, check it out.

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