Why Being Told To ‘Man Up’ Made Me Sink Lower Into Depression
There is undoubtedly more conversation around depression and mental health than ever, so why is it still so hard for males to “come out”?
“Men are stereotyped into fitting certain roles; that’s extremely unhelpful when you have depression,” explains 21-year-old Matt Woosnam.
Not only has Matt just completed a degree in politics and international relations and embarked on a journalism postgraduate course, he is director of communications for the TalkEasy Trust – a community group supporting young people with mental health issues in Croydon and Sutton.
When Matt felt detached, trapped and anxious, he was told to “man up”, which he says only made it harder to find his way out of the “pit of despair”.
“I could have a lot of people around me and still feel lonely,” he tells The Huffington Post UK. “It felt as though no-one understood me. My confidence was low and I would walk down the street and think that people were talking about me or laughing at me and my self-esteem was almost non-existent.
“For me, depression was also about not feeling anything, and then feeling intense frustration or anger for no real reason. It was a mixture of different emotions, or lack of emotions. Most of all, it was confusing and extremely draining. I had no energy to do things.”
He adds: “I certainly think that men are seen as weak by some people if they have, admit to, and discuss their experiences of depression.”
Matt says being a male made it harder because “people generally don’t expect men to have low self-esteem”.
“It is undoubtedly more difficult for males to come out and discuss their depression. If you were to search the internet for well known people with depression you would almost certainly find that the majority are women.
“That’s not necessarily because more women experience depression, but perhaps also because it is seen as more understandable for a woman to be depressed.”
Matt is keen to stress women experience their fair share of stigma, but adds it is not seen as “the done thing” for males to talk about depression.
“Many people think men shouldn’t talk about how they feel because that is weak; when in fact, it is probably one of the most empowering things you can do.
“If you talk about how you feel, then you can encourage others to talk about how they feel, to seek help and to find someone who will listen, who will hear, and who will attempt to understand and/or empathise. For a man that is especially important, you can help someone simply by talking about your own experiences.”
Matt cites Stephen Fry and Alistair Campbell as role models who clearly understand what it is like to experience depression – and who talk openly about their mental health issues.
“Men are not immune from depression simply by virtue of the fact that they were born male and not female. It’s time that men (and women) know that it is OK to talk about mental ill health and it is time to change the myths and stereotypes surrounding it, because only then will things change, will it become slightly easier to deal with the way you feel.”
Sometimes people are less inclined to ask men how they are feeling, Matt continues, because they presume males are less sensitive than women – a presumption which, he says, is incredibly detrimental.
“There is an inherent bias when discussing men’s health that men only experience physical illness, physical pain. This is clearly not true, men experience emotional pain too, and it’s OK that they do, it’s OK to talk about the fact that they do.”
Matt also blogs about his experiences of depression. You can find him on twitter @MattWoosie.