Stronger Than Stigma: Men Tackling Mental Health

January 30, 2015 Adriana Selwyn

After years of battling depression, actor and comedian Wayne Brady finally opened up about his struggles with the condition last year, admitting he sought treatment shortly after his 42nd birthday. Brady wishes he spoke out earlier; among the reasons that prevented him from doing so was a fear of being perceived as a “sissy or soft;” commenting that men are raised to shut out negative emotions and discouraged from talking about feelings.

But these conversations need to happen. In the US, men have suicide rates four times greater than that of women, likely a result of higher prevalence of untreated depression. Globally, 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime, which impacts all areas of a person’s life – relationships, physical health, education, employment. While treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people will not seek help from a health professional.

Stigma around mental illness pervades every aspect of society and prevents many from seeking treatment. The perception that mental illness is scary, abnormal or something to be ashamed of means that for many, the stigma that comes with a diagnosis of mental illness can be as debilitating as the illness itself.  The Vitality Institute advocates for a holistic approach which integrates mental health into evidence-based health promotion and chronic disease prevention initiatives, including de-stigmatization, prevention and access to quality treatment. The Institute’s ultimate aim is to ensure that mental health is included in the broader dialogue on chronic illness and to have CEOs promote mental health as they would heart and lung health.

#StrongerThanStigma is a joint initiative between Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization dedicated to the de-stigmatization of mental illness, and Brandon Marshall’s Project 375. Their latest PSA, featuring prominent male celebrities sharing their stories around mental illness, including those of Brady and Marshall, can be viewed here (or below). The campaign aims to raise awareness around the unique challenges men face when discussing mental health, facilitate open dialogue and encourage help-seeking behaviors.

As Brandon Marhsall puts it, “Men pride themselves on courage and the ability not to show weakness.” In New York City, mayor Di Blasio has been very open about his father’s struggle with substance use and his daughter’s battle with depression, anxiety and addiction.  Furthermore, last week New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, unveiled her family history of mental illness and a plan to comprehensively review the burden of mental illness in New York City.

Let’s all be courageous today and start the conversation around mental illness. It’s the first step towards ending stigma and addressing mental health issues that affect so many in society.

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