We’re at the end of November, which marks Men’s Health Awareness month. Sanne van Baalen reflects on the men in her life who are struggling with their mental health and she writers a letter to each of them here.

To my dad; who has always been the silent and unopinionated parent, who never speaks up or stands up for himself. The father figure who was always present, but had no presence, always surrounded by abusive women who silenced him since day one. Who has so much love to give, but does not know the means of expressing this. Who has got the kindest heart, but has never been able to say the words “I love you”. I remember the day I got my heart broken and he panicked when he saw tears rolling down my face. No hug, no words of reassurance. He got up and walked out of the door. Without a word, he got in the car and left, only to return twenty minutes later with all my favourite snacks. He put my favourite film on, looked at me and said: “I don’t know what to say”. I’m sorry I have always made fun of your lack of opinions, I’m sorry I shut you down when you did finally speak up. I’m sorry I was one of them. It has taken me so long to see your silence is actually a shout for help.

To my partner; who didn’t start thinking about mental health until after his first suicide attempt. Who convinced himself that his emotional baggage made him undesirable, both as a partner and as a friend. Who drinks to get confident or to avoid certain situations, most of which he has created in his head. The kind that feed on such isolation, the kind that every second you hold on to it, it will grow stronger, until it swallows you whole. You can try to silence it with alcohol but then there’s that turning point, where the booze is no longer a confidence boost but something that starts to tear you apart. It makes you overthink everything that you’ve ever questioned. You’ll turn to the bottle to numb yourself but if that doesn’t work, you use it to try and harm yourself. Then you sober up and the thoughts kick in again. I’m sorry I got upset every time you came home drunk, I should have known that you weren’t a party animal, you were actually just very lost.

To my ex; who I initially fell for because he seemed so emotionally intelligent and in touch with his emotions. Who played such a big part in my own journey through mental health. Who at the same time had these weird bouts of explosive anger. Who would push anyone away who didn’t agree with him. Who deeply felt that everyone was somehow against him and truly believed this society wasn’t made for ‘people like him’. Who read into everything as a means of society sabotaging him or his life. I’m sorry for not understanding that your anger didn’t come from a place of malice, but from a place of feeling misunderstood and alone. I’m sorry I tried to force my ways on you, while all you really needed was to find your own way in life.

To my granddad; who will never show any love or affection and takes everyone around him for granted. Who tries so hard to adjust to modern society, but just can’t help making snide comments uncovering his traditional beliefs. Who will get emotional once every five years, when he gets really drunk and starts apologising for everything he has ever done wrong. Who in that moment, won’t be able to stop crying, because, after all, it’s his only chance in five years. Who will apologise for not being supportive enough, or for being stern or strict. Who will look at me, with tears in his eyes, and apologise for how he made fun of me the first time I cut off my hair, which was fourteen years ago. I’m sorry for getting upset over your snidey comments. I now know that you struggle more with these words leaving your mouth than I do.

To my childhood friend; who in my eyes grew up in the most loving and supportive family, but still didn’t feel comfortable coming out to anyone until we were nineteen. Who would go along with the casually problematic banter his family hid behind. Whose coming out was followed by his brother refusing to let him see his nephew, because he didn’t trust “people like you” with little boys. Sometimes you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. I’m sorry for assuming your family was so accepting. I’m sorry for not standing up for you when these ignorant jokes were made.

To all the men I’ve loved, it’s okay. It’s okay to struggle navigating your way through this society where men have to be tough and women have to be vulnerable. It’s okay finding it difficult to open up when society shuts you down. I cannot even imagine what it’s like walking in your shoes. I’m here when you’re ready. All your emotions are okay – anger, sadness, embarrassment. Feel them, express them, when you’re ready, so are we.

It’s okay.

As well as talking to someone you trust, there are a number of services in Hastings that offer help, therapy and support for mental health: Mind, Samaritans, i-Rock, Health in Mind and Seaview. Visit East Sussex Mental Health Directory of Community Support for more local services and information. 

If you know someone who is struggling, Mind offers helpful information on the emotional and practical support you can offer. 

Get in touch with HIP [email protected] if you want to be a part of the dialogue about men’s mental health in Hastings, share your own story or to get in touch with the writer.

In the UK

One in ten men currently have no one they can rely on for emotional support. (Mind, 2016)

Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35.

Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent.
(Men’s Health Forum, 2017)

12.5% of men in the UK are suffering from one of the common mental health disorders.
(Men’s Health Forum, 2017)

Hastings & Rother has a significantly higher incidence and prevalence of depression, long-term mental health problems and suicide rate than the national average.
(East Sussex Public Health Report 2016)

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