This month, yWE TALK is launching a campaign to cast a light on an issue that is too often stigmatized and silenced: men’s mental health. In order to get a greater understanding of this facet of mental health, we reached out to individuals who were brave enough to speak about their experiences.
At yWE TALK, we’re super lucky to have Parbon as our Conference Coordinator. He always brings amazing ideas to our meetings and works incredibly diligently. We thank him for contributing to our March for Men campaign!
How do you think men approach mental health differently from women?
It is not fair for me to speak on behalf of all men, as we are not homogenous. But I was unaware of the concepts of mental health or illness growing up. I had known of societal issues, such as depression, anxiety and body image, but failed to understand the effects they had on those suffering from them.
So it was not surprising that it took me many years to understand that I had been going through chronic depression. It was not until a close friend and mentor pointed out to me that I felt that I needed support. Initially, I was more nervous about how I would be socially perceived as a result of this, than how I could overcome it.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was being able to explain the importance of mental illness to my parents. Growing up, I had been close to my parents, but as first generation immigrants, they weren’t too familiar with the concepts of mental illness/health. Within our family, men were expected to mask their feelings and make responsible decisions. So it was very challenging to communicate how I had been feeling without appearing weak.
Even when I had my parents’ support, it did not feel right to be tied down to this category of the “mentally ill”. It made me doubt my capabilities and question where I had gone wrong. I received sympathy from teachers and friends in high school, which made me feel worse – I felt unproductive, burdensome and captive. I had no aspiration of crafting a sob story to receive an extension. To prove a point to myself, I jumped into several commitments at once, failing to follow through on any of them. I did not understand that I needed time until a mentor explained – “yours is like another injury, if an athlete hurts his ankle and tries to run track the next day, won’t the injury get worse? Give yourself some time, you will walk and then you will be ready to run”.
Honestly, with a large set of commitments on a regular basis during university, I am still struggling to take care of my mental health. Every once in awhile, I react to situations inconclusively and impatiently, which make me feel that I am taking steps backwards. But despite this, I feel that I made a lot of progress in understanding how best to react to adverse situations. So I would encourage everyone to open themselves to this new concept that is “mental health”, so that they can support themselves and others who may go through everyday symptoms, such as anxiety and stress-eating. It is crucial that as men, we understand what mental health and mental illnesses entail, because without a solid understanding of these concepts, we fail to understand the challenges of our spouses, children, peers and colleagues.
What has motivated you to get involved with an organization that aims to improve our understanding of mental health?
Being at the receiving end of chronic depression was the biggest challenge I have faced, and one that has been significant to my journey. As I slowly recovered, I realized that there was a lot of to be done in the mental health field in my communities in Markham and London, and in my native Bangladesh.
Frankly, I could not have overcome my mental illness without a caring support system. Having friends and family members who believe in you while you’re a trainwreck is absolutely important, as mental illnesses can make you yearn for social acceptance. So, I want to be there for those who do not have this support system or are finding it difficult to express to their loved ones what they are going through, much like I did. Working for yWE TALK gives me a sense of pleasure of giving back to the community and simultaneously learning tangible skills.
The most motivating factor, however, is the stigma around mental health in Bangladesh. Dhaka is where I was born and raised, and is the place I call home. Seeing that mental health has little to no voice in Bangladesh, makes me determined to make a large difference there. In many areas in Bangladesh, the rehabilitation procedures for the mentally ill include physical labour, and there’s a common association between depression and drugs. Essentially, the mentally ill are labelled as drug-addicts, lunatics or anything in between. I do not have a concrete plan yet but I know that I want to be a part of a movement to change that. I feel that gaining experience with a small youth organization, such as yWE TALK, can show me how I can contribute to this change.
How can men contribute to raising awareness about mental health?
Men’s lack of contribution to the mental health area can be traced back to lack of participation in care work. On a global scale, women are still responsible for carrying a large burden of care work, which includes taking care of children, elderly and the malnourished. Even within our team at yWE TALK, I am the only male individual and there has been a high female to male ratio among those who attend our events. This shows that there’s potential to raise a lot more awareness among men about care work. So, as an active male, one should seek out opportunities where they can make small differences in the mental health field; from my experience I feel that they are genuinely rewarding. Speaking out about the importance of mental health and illness is also a great way to inspire others to abolish the stigma.