Often, as men, it's easier to slam a few tequila shots than to speak about our mental health. As 'the conversation' around mental health has grown louder, that sentiment's quickly almost become cliche. Thing is, almost every man I know is going through one thing or another, whether that's a diagnosed illness like depression, bipolar disorder, OCD and BPD, or more generally sifting through the malaise that comes with being a lonely, cash-strapped person sleepwalking through a world on fire.
Sure, a government that constantly underfunds mental health services for children and young people keeps insisting that it's "time to talk". But that's easier said than done. Personally, I've often found it difficult to speak to people about the inner workings of my mind. Who am I to bring my burden onto someone else? Is there even someone who wants to listen? And if there is – won't they simply recoil from the dark nature of my thoughts?
The notion that a large portion of men feel uncomfortable opening up to their mates isn't ideal. But it also presents an opportunity for you to try out the objective ear of a therapist, whether you can find one by waiting it out until a spot on the NHS becomes available, or being pushed to go private. The same also goes for reading about strangers' experiences with mental health on Reddit threads, in blog posts, on Twitter. There can be so much power in a single sentence.
This idea of sharing is where Disquiet: The Hidden Depths Of Men, a new magazine, comes in. Designer Sam Judge founded the mag, as an off-shoot of his monthly Disquiet newsletter, along with commissioning editor Kevin Braddock, who you might know through his recent book Everything Begins with Asking for Help: An Honest Guide to Depression and Anxiety, from Rock Bottom to Recovery. The magazine is Sam's first foray into self-publishing and is due to explore the hidden depths of men and their mental health. It features various stories told from different male perspectives, on topics like masculinity, drug use, sexuality, relationships and work, through the lens of mental health.
Sam says he created the magazine in the hope that it would help men feel more able to talk about their issues. As he puts it: "There has been a welcome increase in interest on the topic of mental health in the media, where several prominent figures have shared their stories. I wanted to add another angle to that by focusing on men who were perhaps a bit more like you and I – for want of a better term, let’s call them ‘average men’. "
As Sam sees it, a concurrent swell in trying to understand masculinity hasn't necessarily proven entirely positive. By looking to redefine masculinity for the 'modern man' some publications may have inadvertently nudged men into another, more stylish, cage. "I take issue with some of these publications and blogs," Sam says. "To me they’re often nothing more than a new-age version of the ‘man code’ style editorial we’ve seen for years before. Where men are presented with a particular way to be or a set of guidelines with which to adhere to. Disquiet: The Hidden Depths of Men does away with the editorial formats that lead to this issue. Instead it focuses on what each man wants to say, telling their story as honestly as possible."
If you want to support them, you can pre-order your copy here. Below, Frazer Lawton, one of the men featured in the magazine, discusses his own story and how he came to be involved in Disquiet. Photographs from the mag, by Mike Walker, accompany his words.
When I was younger I dealt with depression by going out and getting pissed. Now I’m betting a bit older, I’ve decided I need to deal with it another way. I can’t just keep getting high. I try to eat well, I run, swim, practice yoga. If I could speak to my younger self, then maybe I’d tell him, 'you know if you just spoke about why you think you’re feeling this way then things will probably get a whole lot better.'
The word nostalgia derives from the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and alga (pain), so in actual fact the very act of feeling pain grants you permission to truly come home. To feel at peace. I’ve felt pain and suffered mental ill health like many others and I’ve learned by simply connecting with the population, by sharing stories of hurt and sadness, depression and anxieties, I’ve given myself permission to feel less alone. To be supported by those around me, be they friends, family, professionals or strangers.
Finding a therapist is like dating someone. You’ve got to find someone who you get on with and who you feel is going to work for you. My first therapist was really sincere which was great. She specialised in the queer community but what we spoke about wasn’t really about me being gay, it was just about life.
So when my friend – and the author of Disquiet, Sam Judge – asked to interview me for the project alongside an array of other men from various backgrounds, I jumped at the opportunity. If only to share my experiences in a more coherent manner with a friend in that moment, to help widen the discourse. To support one another.
As Disquiet notes, for men aged 20 to 49 in the UK, suicide is the number one cause of death and in the UK men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. For gay men, I believe that statistic is even higher. Of course being gay and suffering with mental ill health comes with it’s own nuances, ones I lightly touch on within the pages of Disquiet. The point is though, we must all talk about our problems, we must own them, acknowledge and allow those feelings to then pass.