“Real Men F-ing Cry”: Supporting Men’s Mental Health

man holding his head in his hands, sad, divorce

Article by Jason Wegner 

Ultimately defeated, I was wheeled into the acute psychiatry ward of the hospital and told that I was not going anywhere for at least 30 days.

I, of course, was in denial of this fact and refused any help that was given to me. I was allowed to refuse medication for up to two weeks until my trial hearing for my pleas for freedom. Nobody was listening to my voice at the time because I was talking “too fast” and “non-stop,” so I took a vow of silence once again and wrote out my case for freedom at the hearing. I said I didn’t need a lawyer because I was superhuman and would easily win the hearing. I did not win that hearing and was given the slip of paper that read, “appeal for release denied. Written reasons to follow.” That evening I was given my medication. After spitting it out once, I was told that I was either getting an injection or taking it orally once more. I didn’t want the needle, so I took the medication like a good patient, and the rest is history.

I would spend a total of 57 days in the acute psychiatry ward of the hospital after being diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. After I exited the hospital, I experienced seven months of severe depression. It would take about a year, and 22 medication changes and adjustments, until I finally got my life back. Once recovered, I experienced post-traumatic growth, and I am now doing better than I ever have in my life. I lost the 70lbs of weight I gained during the depression, went back to school for seven straight 4.0 GPA semesters, paid off all my debt, and I’m about to finish an education degree for my dream career of becoming a high school English teacher. I was lucky to have many people who care about me and support me through my mental health struggles. I can say with a lot of gratitude that I do not struggle with mental illness any longer – I live with it.

I firmly believe that we all need to do a better job of supporting other people through their mental health struggles and men in particular need support. Men have been consistently told since they were boys that it is “soft” to display any emotion. They are told that they are wimps if they don’t “suck it up” or “get over it.” This is the toxic masculinity that men face all the time. Now, as a high school (American) football coach currently, I cannot have my athletes showing weakness on the field, and emotional players will typically get beat down on the gridiron. Excellent players are calm and collected on the field and show only strength. But when the game is over, and they move on with their day, if they are continually told to “shove their emotions” and “show no weakness,” they will not be able to perform in their daily lives, and their mental health will suffer.

We can all support men and encourage more positive conversations by showing boys and men alike that there is a time for competition and there is a time for conversation. I hope that by sharing my mental health journey and being open about my mental illness, I can encourage a conversation around men’s mental health. My book is entitled Manic Man; How to Live Successfully with a Severe Mental Illness and in it I detail my entire experience. A key to my success is being open and, more importantly, being human. Showing emotion is what makes us human, and it can open the path for understanding and connection.

As my psychologist and co-author, Dr. Kerry Bernes, elegantly put it once to me in our session, “real men f-ing cry.” This could not be truer. I think it’s “soft” and “weak” to be afraid to face our real emotions and feelings. If we reframe the conversation and praise our brothers, fathers, and all men for being real, raw, and “emotional,” we can then help end the stigma around men’s mental health.

Manic Man by Jason Wegner, Cherish Editions, October 2021, is available as paperback and ebook in all good bookshops internationally and online (£10.99) @j_wegs https://www.amazon.co.uk/Manic-Man-Successfully-Severe-Illness/dp/1913615413

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