Nervous Breakdown

Big Boys Don’t Cry

10CC told us years ago, that big boys don’t cry – it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it?  No matter that people can be devastated by relationship breakdown or unrequited love, you just get on with it.  Keep calm and carry on, and all that?

Some years ago, a friend of mine had a few health problems.  Nothing major, but concerning enough and after various ineffective treatments and possible diagnoses from his GP, it became quite frustrating for him.  His GP then suggested that if various things had been ruled out and if treatments had been tried and failed, it may be that the symptoms – his very physical symptoms – were attributable to stress.  During a normal chat about how he was doing, he told me the ‘stress’ theory and seemed fairly indignant at the idea – after all, he was “a bloke!”

He wasn’t worried about anything, he was fairly hardened to the grit of real life, he had a good job that he enjoyed, lovely wife and son, although he was professionally ambitious and wanted a bit more from his career.  He had a very decent lifestyle, etc., etc. … he just wasn’t “the sort of bloke to get stressed!!”  And in many regards, he wasn’t – he was always as calm as a coma in the middle of extraordinary chaos in his job and had worked himself into a secure position in a notoriously insecure professional world. << But that’s not what stress is, is it?!!  Or rather, it’s not the total of what stress related disorders can be.

Stress takes many forms – yes, you can have obvious stressors caused by straight-forward ‘worries’ like financial problems, redundancy and if they endure, it can have health and mental health consequences.  Stress related symptoms can kick in after bereavement or just because your life has fewer hours in the day than are needed to get your work done with some kind of balance to the rest of your life.  Again, we’ve probably all had that for short periods – when it becomes a long-term issue, it can lead to health problems of various kinds.

So I asked him to remind me exactly how long the symptoms had been coming and it had been just over a year.  And I said, “And your lad is nearly 18 months old isn’t he?”  His face went white.  I asked what life was like for him and his wife, who also worked full-time after her maternity leave, in an important and demanding job.  Fairly awful, it turns out.  His wife suffered with post-natal depression and he’d struggled to get his head around it and I had known there had been serious complications for his wife, during the birth of their little boy.  Their relationship since the birth had been hard – practical and functional and little time to spend as a couple as they’d struggled to balance work / home / life, etc., but he’d written it off as something just to be pushed through by putting his head down.  It certainly wasn’t the child-free lifestyle they had both enjoyed before becoming parents where two adults earning good money could always do what they wanted, whenever they wanted. He felt somewhat, ‘trapped’ and couldn’t see an end to this phase of his life.  Now I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, as you know … but that sounds like it’s got all the parts, doesn’t it?!

This month, Movember is not just about prostate cancer as it traditionally is – it is about raising awareness of mens’ mental health.  Men, especially middle-aged men, are at far higher risk of their mental health problems, leading to suicide.  This is especially true after events like redundancy or divorce, where risks are especially high.  Theories as to why, include such events representing the most direct threats to our notions of masculinity, which represent that bloke as less than manly.  I’m not a sociologist, either … but that works for me.  I’d like to know more.

There are fewer organisations on male mental health than you may think.  Especially when you consider the suicide rate.  The CALM Zone is a charity attempting to raise awareness and offers support.  The Mens’ Health Forum (website currently offline) also provides information on how mental health issues affect men.  Obviously, groups like the Samaritans have a 24hr helpline as well as online resources and your General Practitioner can probably offer more support and information than you realise.

My friend took a big gamble and took a big decision to move his job, away from an organisation who had helped him get his foot on the ladder and supported him to get established.  A difficult decision, which cut his professional apron strings and lead to suggestions of disloyalty, etc..  However, he was moving to somewhere which he knew would represent a far better work / life balance and deal with his professional frustrations and ambitions.  He hasn’t had any health problems for years and has taken steps, very deliberate steps, to balance his life and ensure that daily reality doesn’t squeeze him and his wife, too much.  Especially now they have two boys!  Now, I’m not a doctor as you know …

If any man wants to access information or support for mental health problems, there are resources on the MIND website.  There is also a very useful report for those who wish to know more about how mental illness can affect men.

The Mental Health Cop blog won the Mind 2012 Digital Media Award, in memory and in honour of Mark Hanson.
The Awards celebrate the “best portrayals of and reporting on mental health in the media.”

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7 thoughts on “Big Boys Don’t Cry”

  1. I worry about the use of the term ‘stress’, mainly because it’s not actually a medically recognised term. As such it’s easily written off by the ignorant and also used as a way of normalising feelings that really should be described as an illness.

    I think we should be clear that a lot of the situations we describe as ‘stress’ are probably something else eg depression and/or anxiety. I note you use the word ‘symptoms’ above. I’d suggest that once you find yourself using such a word you are actually talking about an illness.

    Stress is real but there are good reasons why it should not be medicalised. It can be healthy on occasions. More importantly once an issue becomes labeled as stress, and it goes on for months, getting worse, still being labeled as such, it contributes to under-diagnosis of actual mental illness.

    For the above reasons I don’t think stress is a useful term in mental health and I think we should avoid it.

    1. I’m using the term stress generically, not medically. I phrased the post to indicate that stress is part and parcel of life – and sometimes good, as you say – but that it can go on to become medically significant.

      Based on various views I’ve read from clinicians, I’d argue that stress should not be used as a medical term at all and I tried to avoid doing so, suspecting as I do that stress, in itself, is not a medical condition. Whether it leads to the development of depression or anxiety disorders is something subsequent to human experiencing ‘stressors’ of various types.

      I think we might be saying the same thing – what do you think?!

  2. The same word can have a lay meaning, a medical meaning, a legal meaning, a professional or worst of all a corporate b.s. meaning.

  3. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder..(I Stress the word stress there.;) Personally I think that worrying about *wordage** is ignoring the main point here. stress evokes physical reactions and illness and is probably underrated due to the lack of decent cohesion between mental health and physical health. For example: I passed blood for a year and woke up in cold sweats and palpitations, I had chest pains, muscle spasms – and depression. I have single handedly bankrupted the NHS for physical appointments when it turns out it was all due to stress.

    There are levels of stress as there are levels of depression. Stress causes anxiety and anxiety isn’t always obvious to others. The point is encouraging people to recognise their mental health and seeking help when appropriate rather than feel shame? Worrying about use of words promotes the *them and us* attitude IMHO ..

    1. True but sometimes them and us is not just about attitude. Sometimes them and us is a statement that reflects reality.

  4. I find it an interetsing topic as i have recently been told i am stressed due to “home life” and have been forced out of a role at work which i am currently performing well (ive had a taser authorisation removed). The only reason i am “stressed” (stressed in this instance is me showing emotion becuase of the unreasonable requests) is because they wanted me to sustain an unsustainable and unreasonable move which would have had an adverse effect on my home life.

    Therefore the job created the “stress” and then punished me for it!

    1. I’ve heard similar stories before – I hope you are getting the support you need from somewhere. Police officers are at raised risk of suffering mental health problems because of their job and I think there is a clear argument that we could do more to support officers like you.

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