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A Thank You to Dwayne Johnson and Polite Request to Everyone Else

The more influential people that are honest about their own experiences - the more Dwayne Johnson's, Stephen Fry's and Ruby Wax's, Professor Green's and Jonny Benjamin's that speak out and aren't afraid of the judgement of others - the more clues we have to piece together the bigger picture...

Dwayne Johnson has opened up publicly about his battle with depression. Thank you Dwayne Johnson.

I'll come back to him in a bit...

In the work that I do for male suicide prevention charity, CALM, I sometimes hear from guys that talking about how they're feeling doesn't help. I have heard them talk about the friends & family that don't want to know the truth; it's too difficult for them to hear. All they want to hear is, "I'm fine thanks, yeah good, you?" So, maybe that's what these guys end up telling them, because telling the truth just seems to cause more problems.

Sometimes, it seems, talking doesn't help.

And this is not something that I'm comfortable hearing. I know in my bones that a problem shared is a problem halved, not necessarily because it means it'll be fixed but because it's no longer your burden to bear alone. I just feel instinctively as though letting things out is better than keeping them in. I am passionate about the truth, about never needing to hide or apologise for something that isn't your fault.

But these guys aren't wrong.

Then something dawned on me yesterday.

It's not about whether or not you talk. It's about who you talk to.

I used to tell everyone - family, friends, colleagues and clients alike - that all was "fine" when it definitely wasn't. Eventually, that lie became really difficult to tell, so I took a sabbatical and lived in a mindfulness community in Thailand.

It was while I was there that I learned to talk. And boy, did we talk. There were sharing groups on a daily basis, and "fine" was not an accepted response to the question "how are you?" (Because, as I would discover, FINE stands for Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.)

I learned how to express what I was feeling right then and there in that moment, and that it was ok to feel it, safely rooted in the mindfulness (and, incidentally, also the Heraclitean) principle that it would change, as all things do change. So, I found myself on a rollercoaster of emotional awareness, feeling 100 different emotions a day, where I'd formerly been deadened (or perhaps just not listening).

Emboldened and alive with my new-found self-awareness and emotional security, I went from 0 to 100, committing to 100% honesty in all situations to all people forever more, Amen.

But of course THAT isn't the answer either, not when that honesty isn't met with understanding.

Look, I get it; it's hard to hear that someone you love is in a really dark place. And maybe you can't relate to it at all.

Coming from where we still are in the 21st century - perhaps incredulously - of a standpoint of relative uncertainty about mental health (at least in comparison to physical health), in a cultural context of stigma, in a world where we have to spend a month campaigning for a nation to discuss #BiggerIssues rather than the latest release on Xbox, it's not surprising that the majority of people don't know how to handle the truth when they're confronted with it.

They don't understand what they're supposed to do.

If I tell you that I feel like a fraud, like I'm worthless and I feel as though I have no future, I can see how, given the cultural context of emotional naivety, 'toxic' masculinity and mental health stigma, this might make you uncomfortable, crippled even by the uncertainty of how to react.

But your response is crucial.

Try, if you can, not to see a problem and rush to fix it. Accept that that's how they're feeling and it doesn't make them weird or wrong. If you're worried about someone, CALM (with the help of other experts and organisations) has published some advice on how you might want to approach the situation.

I'm guessing some of you are fed up of reading about mental health - 'it's depressing, c'mon it's Christmas, why do we have to talk about it?' Because these issues - and I'm not just talking about clinical conditions, I mean life crises, unemployment, addiction, relationship troubles, the fact that you broke your leg and you're fucking bored and you never see your friends anymore and life feels totally shit - are causing over 6,000 people every year to take their own lives.

Raising awareness and discussing these issues in the media is so vitally important. The more influential people that are honest about their own experiences - the more Dwayne Johnson's, Stephen Fry's and Ruby Wax's, Professor Green's and Jonny Benjamin's that speak out and aren't afraid of the judgement of others - the more clues we have to piece together the bigger picture, the more information and advice is out there for real people with friends who look like they're going through something but they just don't know how to be there for them.

Because if you don't know how to be around your friend, they're very soon going to feel like they're a burden to you.

So, to those of you who are the friends, the loved ones, please be patient, try to understand why all this talk is necessary, why I'm thanking Dwayne Johnson.

And for those of you who are struggling and don't know who to talk to, just know that you don't need to be honest with everyone. One person is enough, if they want to hear the truth.

Until we've reached a time when everyone understands that it's not a failure to admit when life gets so hard that you can't face getting out of bed, it's not a question of whether or not you tell the truth, but who you tell it to.

One of CALM's writers put it very simply recently:

I purposely don't spend time with the "what have you got to feel depressed about?" brigade. I have a few close male friends, who have heard all my stories and would never dream of judging me (good news when you waste so much energy judging yourself!) So, think about which friends and family members will be there for you and be as open with them as possible.

If you don't have a sounding board like this, that's ok, I believe that one day you will, and in the meantime there are people literally sitting and waiting for your call on the CALM helpline (0800 585858, open 5pm-midnight every day) or a click away via webchat.

photo credit: The Man on the Silver Mountain via photopin (license)

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