June is Men's Mental Health Month, and it allows us to talk about a topic that often gets swept under the rug.
While most of us know that many men suffer in silence, nothing is rarely done about it.
Brad Burnell, facilitator and peer support councillor for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Central Region, says that the importance of men speaking out about their mental health is not to show weakness but the opposite--strength.
Burnell explains that he noticed his mental health really started to deteriorate after the passing of his wife a few years back but also adds that unhealed childhood trauma played a big part in his journey.
"I deal with a lot of things, myself. That's one of the reasons I'm a facilitator of the classes because I've been through a lot of the different kind of mental illnesses even though I have not been officially diagnosed. I have suffered through depression, anxiety, stress, the whole nine yards."
He talks about the stigma toward men speaking out about their feelings, especially when men have to show vulnerability.
"I think it also has to do with the stigma of men being tough. It's a matter of, like, 'men don't cry.' I was brought up to be the man of the house, type of thing, and we're supposed to be the rock, and perhaps for a man to come out and say that they're sad or they're anxious, or any of the other mental illnesses that we do have. It makes them weak. And to me, that's a stigma because it's the other way around. Once I stepped out of the box, I started to thrive in my life."
Burnell shares that he had to go to classes and counselling before he could become a facilitator, adding he knows how hard it can be to take that first step and ask for help.
"I didn't know that I was suffering through anxiety, even though I kind of felt like I was. But at the same time, I couldn't say it because I'm a guy. That's just the way it's been for years and years and years. And I think the importance of this getting out there is more or less to let the people know that it is with men as well. I mean, I was to the point of not wanting to wake up in the morning."
Burnell explains that stepping out of his comfort zone and speaking up about the dark feelings he had was very hard as he felt that as a man, he should suck it up instead of seeking help for his suffering.
He says that even just doing research for yourself can be the first step taken to trying to deal with the state of your mental health.
"Go onto Google or whatever and look it up and then find out what the symptoms of all these different illnesses are that somebody is struggling with. I do peer support here (at CMHA), and I am starting to get men to come in here to actually talk with me, and I share my story with them. Once they are here, they start to understand, 'OK, well yeah, maybe I am going through this, so maybe I do need to get help.'"
Burnell notes that he believes that stigma toward men's mental health is slowly changing as more men talk about their feelings.
"Men do get depressed, men do get anxious, men have a tendency of getting angry, and that's acceptable. But the reason, a lot of times, they're getting angry is because of the depression, because of the anxiety, because of the stresses being put on them as men. Because men, like I said, are supposed to be tough. They're supposed to be the rock. They're supposed to be holding the family together. Whereas sometimes, it just doesn't happen that way."
Burnell states that mental illnesses do not discriminate between men and women.
"In some cases, it can be just as hard if not harder for the man. And I'm not trying to belittle either one. I'm just saying that mental health is real, and it's everywhere."
He says It doesn't matter how much money you have. It doesn't matter how broke you are. If it's there, it's there.
"I had the opportunity of going to the Star Learning Centre in Toronto and talking to a girl that had locked herself in her mother and father's basement. She was in her 40s, and she had been there more or less for, I think, three or four years. And it got to the point where she would not leave that basement. They would try psychologist counsellors, psychiatrists, like anything money could buy to help her, but nothing seemed to help. Then the Star Learning Centre came to Toronto. So, they phoned it, but their daughter wouldn't go down. She said, 'No, it's a waste of time.' So, one of the Star Centre facilitators went down to see her, talked to her and managed to get her to one class, they managed to get her to a second class. When I went out there three years later, I was talking to her. She had two part-time jobs. She was volunteering at the Saint Michael Soup Kitchen. She looked at me with this smile that would just melt you and said, 'I'm now a useful member of society.' The family was so impressed and so happy that this worked. The family donated ten million dollars to the Star Learning Centre to keep it going. Money couldn't help her; money couldn't help her at all," says Burnell. "It was people like myself and other people that we have here; People that are using their lived experience. I'm not saying there isn't any place for the medical part, but when people are suffering through depression and anxiety, it's good for them to know what helps is realizing that you're not alone. We're not alone out there; it's everywhere."