From darkness to light
By ANTHONY CASTLE
There are things we don’t share with others.
There are things we don’t speak about, that we hide, even from those close to us. These might be things we typically keep private, ordinary things. Sometimes we might hide how we feel about our lives, our relationships, or memories of past events.
We keep these things to ourselves because we might not know how to share them. Perhaps our problems run deeper than others suspect. Maybe we have regrets or feel shame for the things we have done or the things that have been done to us. Perhaps the thought of sharing these things seems painful, or we may feel unsure of how others will respond, but the things we keep secret aren’t necessarily about excluding others. We keep secrets to feel safe.
Each June, Men’s Health Week raises awareness around the issues men face, particularly mental health challenges. The theme for this year is Healthy Habits, encouraging men to form habits that build wellbeing, but the reality is that men are struggling with mental health in Australia. Men make up an average of seven out of every nine suicides each day.
The data shows that a quarter of Australian men will experience a diagnosed mental health disorder in their lifetime, but only 25 per cent of men will seek help from a mental health professional. Of those men who had contacted a GP, only 40 per cent had seen a mental health professional. Men are not sharing about their mental health challenges enough or seeking the supports that can help. We often keep secrets to feel safe, but for some men, it’s the secrets that are dangerous.
“We often keep secrets to feel safe, but for some men, it’s the secrets that are dangerous.”
I have known enough men who have been hurt by the things they didn’t share when what was kept inside became too much. I have known men who haven’t known how to speak about their unhappiness until it tore their lives apart. I have known men who kept their darkest parts hidden. Men who didn’t seek professional help. Men who are no longer here. In some ways, I was one of these men. Over the years, I have had to learn how to share things, things I have kept on the inside, seeking out professional help when I need it.
Throughout this process, a Scripture verse has come to mind, from James 5:16; confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. I have thought about this verse from time to time, though not because mental health struggles are sinful or because we can just ‘pray away’ diagnosed depression and anxiety. We can’t, and in many cases, the Church can spiritualise mental health and cause harm to those who need professional help. I remember this verse because I have come to see confession as an important idea, in as much as sharing what is hidden with others can bring some healing. It can save lives.
There are two questions I have found myself asking others over the years, healthy habits I practise with men when I can see they are struggling on the inside. I ask, ‘Do you want to talk?’ and ‘Have you shared this with a professional who can help?’
There are many things we don’t share with others, and while we often keep secrets to feel safe, the danger of hiding our mental health struggles is all too real. In a country where twice as many men die by suicide each year than on the roads, we need to make a habit of sharing about mental health. The dark things that are kept inside are often best shared, brought out into the light, with others who can help.
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78. Mensline offers free professional 24/7 telephone counselling support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence (using and experiencing), addiction, relationships, stress and wellbeing.