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Recently, a friend of mine confided in me that he was depressed. I wasn’t shocked. In fact, it was almost expected news. My friend Greg* is what many people, and what I would have long ago, considered a typical “lad”. Brawny, buzzcut, lover of booze, and a friend of brothels. However, like many guys his age, in the 17 to 21 category, he is also deeply, deeply depressed. Some, on whatever side of the political, religious, and social spectra, believe that he has no reason to be depressed. After all, Greg is living overseas, is happily employed, and has many mates in his new country already. But even the most successful of men can fall prey to depression. Especially young men. Greg confided in me that he feels lonely, and inexplicably so—a common symptom amongst depressed people.
I can understand how Greg feels. He’s an old school Tory; he doesn’t really agree with a lot of progressive or socially liberal ideals, although he does drink a fair amount. It can be hard having those values when you’re young, when many of your peers are often more liberal or progressive. But that doesn’t really help him. Being right-wing often means you suffer from viewing manliness as a stoic trait, when in fact being stoic and standing tall should be tempered with the ability to express your emotions. I pleaded with Greg to seek help, but he said he would be fine, and said he did not need help and that he could self-medicate with drink. I am not associating right wing views with depression or suicide; there is no researched correlation between political views and depression, other than a few debatable graphs from the US that show that Democrats are more likely to be depressed than Republicans. It should also be made clear that I myself am right-wing and depressed, but I don’t associate my views with my mental health.
What is interesting, in an altogether horrifying way, is the link between alcohol consumption and male depression. In his article from August 2014 titled “Suicide and silence: why depressed men are dying for someone to talk to”, Owen Jones raises the eye-opening point that men are twice as likely as women to develop alcoholism. He takes a quote from Mind spokesperson Beth Murphy, who says that “One of the more common ways men deal with it is self-medicating with alcohol and drugs”. Greg has told me about the two times he has attempted suicide. Both times he had been on drugs and intoxicated. Very recently, he confided that his drinking wasn’t working. I told him to consult a medical professional, but he flat out refused. I couldn’t express to him my frustration that he wasn’t seeking help, so I’m writing his story out here, with his permission, in the hopes that he realises how much I really do care about him and how I don’t want him to be another statistic.
So what can be done? At first glance it seems like a hopeless cause. Young men are killing themselves and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do. But there is. We can remind young men that you can still be a man and seek help. That you can be a burly macho man with sick gains, and still have emotions. Emotions are part of being human. Exposing those emotions to a trained professional isn’t a weakness—it’s a sign of accepting that you do need help. Not everything has to be you standing stoically alone against the tidal wave of depression. After all, the Battle of Britain wasn’t won by one stoic Royal Air Force pilot, it was won by thousands of them. Working as a team. And that’s what we, as men, need to do. We need to work together so that we can live free of depression and live healthy, normal, happy lives.
If you think you’re suffering from depression, or are having suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to contact the counselling services at University. If you ask your local GP, you can also receive six free sessions from various mental health institutions.
Phone numbers to call:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757
This Thursday is World Suicide Prevention Day. For more information, visit spinz.org.nz and mentalhealth.org.nz.