My initial plan was to complete my trilogy on mental health supports this week, but I’ve spent the last two weeks in support of a Canadian initiative that I’d like to bring to your attention: Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Consequently, the final part of that trilogy will follow shortly.
Last year, I was tagged in a photo and asked to participate in promoting Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. I was surprised at this because I’d never been tagged in a tweet before and, more significantly, I’d never heard of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. But I was intrigued and took a moment to visit the website. There I read this:
Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of how signs and symptoms of mental health conditions may present themselves differently in men, and to normalize conversations about mental health issues to reduce the stigma that often prevents men from seeking help. Participants are encouraged to wear bright- or lime-green coloured articles of clothing on that day, and use the #MensMHday hashtag on social media, to show their support.
First proclaimed in the City of Ottawa in 2014, this awareness day is held annually on the Tuesday immediately preceding Father’s Day, during International Men’s Health Week. Check out the backstory on #MensMHday and how it came to light.
I read the draft documents, the request for proclamation and the draft proclamation. I read that “approximately 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their passing; it’s further estimated that 60% of deaths by suicide are attributable to diagnosable depressive disorders. And while women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a Depression-related condition, men are 3 to 4 times more likely than women to die by suicide.” I was hooked. I was nearly one of those tragic statistics, I knew as well as anyone that the numbers were about people like me, people who were lost and alone, isolated by shame and stigma. I agreed to participate in my community.
And then I stopped. I was plagued with self-doubt and I procrastinated. Who was I, I thought, to be approaching a Mayor in support of such a worthy cause? I wasn’t worthy of the honour. I was a nobody. What if they said yes, and made the Proclamation? What would happen then? Was I able to follow through? These thoughts, and more, kept me awake at night. For weeks, I’d sit at my computer and then freeze. Then the inner chatter would resume, all the self-doubt, all the self-castigation both because I didn’t write and because I wasn’t worthy of writing. I was broken, I was unworthy and I delayed and delayed some more.
In time, the sense of obligation grew stronger. The voice of guilt overpowered the voice of unworthiness and I did write to my local municipality. I used the templates provided on the website and drafted the letter. I also wrote a letter of explanation, explaining why the request was being delivered so late in the day, explaining my fears and self-doubt, explaining that I was one of those men who found shame and stigma silenced their voice. Once the letters were ready, I hand-delivered them.
I explained all of this to the founder of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. He didn’t scold me. He congratulated me for finding a way through the shame and stigma. He lent support where I expected to receive blame. I was humbled.
I was also to be surprised. My local Municipality granted the Proclamation, becoming one of four communities in Canada that did so.
This year I upped the ante. I decided I would reach out to all nine local governments, eight municipal and one regional, in my area. At the end of March, I sent letters to Oshawa, Brock, Ajax, Clarington, Scugog, Whitby, Pickering, Uxbridge and Durham Region.
For the fact is this – we need more days like Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. We need a women’s day, and a child’s day. We need, each and every day, to end a social environment where shame and stigma will silence people to the point where death is sought, not help.
This year, June 13, 2017 is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. I encourage you to visit the website and use the provided templates to have the Day proclaimed in your community. In addition, please wear your bright- or lime-green shirt or top and help us bring the silence, the shame and the stigma to an end.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.