Due to his early wrestling career, an acting CV dominated by action roles and his sheer size, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is often heralded as a “man’s man” - an embodiment of everything that is stereotypically masculine. It is this that makes it all the more poignant that the star has spoken candidly about his experience of depression after his mother’s attempted suicide.
″[It] took me a long time to realise it, but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes [who] have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone,” he added.
This isn’t the first time Johnson has spoken about his mental ill health, having shared his experiences of depression in his early twenties with CNN in 2015. In light of his recent comments, three men affected by depression share what Johnson’s continued efforts to raise awareness of mental ill health mean to them.
Craig Butler, 25, used to find it difficult to speak about depression when he was younger. “A combination of the need to be perceived as ‘masculine’ and a lack of understanding of the topic made it near impossible to see a benefit to talking about it,” he tells HuffPost UK. However, he says seeing Johnson’s comments has brought him “hope”.
“There’s still a lot of complexities around the topic if mental health,” he says. “The more people - and men especially - that open up about it, the more normal the issue becomes and thus less dangerous.
“With his persona, I think men like The Rock are crucial in breaking down barriers. For men who don’t share the same characteristics, to see someone widely perceived as ‘manly’ open up will make them feel like they can too... it’s something men can aspire to.”
Like Butler, Paul Brook, 41, has also found it difficult to be open about his experiences of depression and anxiety in the past. Despite blogging about mental health for almost seven years, he says talking to someone new about his experiences for the first time can still make him feel anxious.
“It’s such a personal thing – it’s much easier to gloss over it and say ‘I’m fine’ than to go into what it’s really like. I’ve been lucky that people I’ve spoken to have been understanding, but depression is so misunderstood that many people will make judgements about you,” he tells HuffPost UK. “It seems that every day on Twitter, those who are open about their mental health are subjected to people telling them to ‘snap out of it’, ‘man up’, or ‘stop feeling sorry’ for themselves.”
However, he believes when high profile people like Johnson share their personal experiences it can help to challenge misconceptions.
“I appreciate people being open about their mental health, because I know how hard that can be and what strength it takes to be that honest. When I see someone like The Rock, or Professor Green, or any other man in the public eye, talking openly about what depression feels like, I am full of admiration and respect for them, and glad they’ve spoken out because people listen to them and pay attention,” he says. “Society has expectations about what a man should be like, and these men are brave enough to be honest and defy those expectations.”
Gary Parr, 40, has only recently felt comfortable speaking opening about his experiences of depression. “Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 80s wasn’t easy, especially where talking about your emotional wellbeing was concerned,” he says. “If you had any problems you were generally just expected to get on with it.”
He thinks it’s “amazing” a high profile actor like Johnson has decided to be honest and open about his own problems.“It’s inspired me to carry on talking about my own struggles,” he says, adding that when men in the public eye talk about mental health “this can only ever be a good thing”.
“Such a high profile star can reach so many people and help break the stigma surrounding mental health. Plus the fact that doing so goes against the stereotypical action man persona he normally portrays should help other men realise there’s no shame in suffering from mental health problems,” he says.
But as Brook points out, the fact that some people on social media have expressed surprise at Johnson talking about depression shows “how far we still have to go to break the taboos and stigma of mental health”.
“It’s a normal thing, affecting loads of people – why do we have to be so hush hush about it?” he asks. “The idea of being ‘strong and silent’ and not wanting to be seen as ‘weak’ is poisoning men and putting lives at risk. But would you tell The Rock to ‘man up’? He’s a big bloke, an action hero, idolised by many, yet he’s still suffered with depression. I hope his words make people stop and think.”