Speak Up About Your Mental Health
By the time you read this, Movember will have been in the rear-view mirror. Did you grow a mustache to raise money to help beat prostate or testicular cancer? The focus on ProstateCancer.net last Movember was not so much on physical ailments but rather on men’s mental health issues.
A whole slew of fellow correspondents wrote moving articles on this website about mental health issues. They took many themes, but if there was one overarching message, it was the importance of speaking up and telling people you have concerns about your mental health.
Difficulty talking about mental health
I’ve had various brushes with my mental health, which we will get to in a moment, but talking with my wife, she asked if my male friends and I ever discussed this topic among ourselves. She and her girlfriends regularly enquire and check up on each other’s health both mental and physical. I’m very open about my cancer, and my friends do ask me about it. But discussing our mental health is not high on the agenda when we get together.
Despite how they may feel to the sufferer, what I’m referring to here are relatively mild mental health symptoms. In a recent Financial Times article, the journalist Manuela Saragosa told her husband’s story of suffering and eventual suicide from a schizoaffective disorder. It is a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar, which she calls "the worst of both terrible worlds," and something that was hard to bring up in casual conversation.
A recent poll run on this website asked the question: "Have you sought mental health support?" Interestingly, the second most-common response was: "No, I am not sure where to start." This is hardly surprising if it’s a topic of conversation that men tend to bury.
I haven’t sought mental health support from having contracted prostate cancer, but more than twenty years ago I did suffer from repeated and debilitating panic attacks. In the early days, I was convinced I was having a heart attack, rather than a panic attack, and it took me a while to see the problems lay in my mind, not my body.
It all came to a head in Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1992. I was working as a journalist for ABC News. Daily we would drive into the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq to cover the story. We were some of the first journalists to enter Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s men were driven out. They left behind blazing oil wells and utter devastation. It was a rough time, and I was barely able to hold together. The simple act of driving a car would often pave the way to an attack. Something I was barely able to conceal.
Certainly, in those ‘tough guy’ circumstances, I felt unable to reveal how badly I was feeling. I didn’t have the strength to speak out.
On my return I told my wife, and she persuaded me to seek help. I undertook a course of cognitive therapy. It’s a very practical form of therapy which certainly appealed to me and has since become common practice for those suffering with PTSD and other mental health issues. At the time it was a very new treatment.
Help is out there
In answer to the those who responded to our poll about not knowing where to start when it comes to mental health treatments, I would say the first move is to talk to your family or trusted friends. The prostate cancer blues can be profoundly damaging.
With Movember having been about men’s mental health, I looked at my own mental health, and you should do the same. If you have concerns, particularly if you’re feeling lonely and isolated, take the first step and speak up; help is out there.
At what age were you diagnosed with prostate cancer?