Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day

It began with a photo, an unexpected tag and a tweet that simply said “You’re It”. With that simple tweet, I became aware of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day, #MensMHDay, a uniquely Canadian event.

What followed was procrastination and, ultimately, last-minute action. The time between was filled with doubt, self-recrimination, guilt, surprising encouragement and sudden fortitude.

The tag came out of the blue. I was tweeting about my mental health. I participated in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. I had begun to guest write for Healthy Minds Canada. Somewhere along the way, my advocacy was being noticed. To be honest, I was oblivious to much of this notice. I was working in my own little bubble, content to express myself. I was my own voice, not seeing that others took hope in its expression. I didn’t then, nor do I now, see myself as an advocate.

The tag shattered the bubble. It was one of several actions that brought to mind that my words were having consequences. I had received emails thanking me for sharing, but they allowed me to continue as I had been. The tag was different. It demanded more of me. It demanded that I do more than just write. It demanded that I become less anonymous. It demanded that I become an advocate.

I was filled with the excitement of writing for Healthy Minds Canada, and of tweeting to support Bell Let’s Talk, so I accepted the challenge. I didn’t recognize it as the change it was.

Then the self-doubt struck, the self-loathing, the lack of self-esteem. I just stopped. I stopped all action about #MensMHDay. I allowed my sense of unworthiness to take over.

This led to self-recrimination and guilt. I punished myself for my inaction, using vile epithets that only eroded my already diminished sense of self.

This ended when two actions were taken. I used the draft templates, prepared the necessary documents and then hand-delivered them to my local municipal office, Oshawa City Hall. Simultaneously, I reached out to Jean-Francois and expressed to him the doubts I was experiencing and the action I had taken.

Two surprises followed. Oshawa, despite my inordinate delay and last minute request, declared #MensMHDay 2016. And Jean-Francois, the founder of #MensMHDay, expressed his thanks for all I had done. I was taken aback, pleased at the responses but still feeling unworthy. Shortly thereafter I had occasion to meet with Mayor Henry and discuss with him my request and the circumstances surrounding it. It was a delightful conversation which, coupled with Jean-Francois’ warm and supportive reply, had me resolving to do better next time.

The next time arose in April when I was unexpectedly tagged again. The tag reminded me that the 2017 #MensMHDay campaign was underway and I jumped right in. Using Oshawa as the inspiration, I sat at my laptop and wrote to Ajax, Brock, Clarington, Durham, Pickering, Scugog, Uxbridge and Whitby. all in Durham, requesting that each Proclaim June 13, 2017 to be Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Each has issued the Proclamation.

I concede, this went far beyond my expectations. I thought one or two municipalities would issue the Proclamation with the others politely declining. But as yes after yes came in, I made it a personal mission to get all nine.

Mission accomplished.

However, this all leaves an important question unasked and unanswered: why did I agree to become involved in the first place?

While men and women roughly experience mental illness in equal proportions, women are ten times more likely to seek help. Men invariably struggle on in silence. This silence comes at a heavy cost. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. In Canada, this equates to 8 men dying by suicide every day.

I almost bore that cost. The pain I endured, the bleak melancholy that my life had become, almost led to my own death by suicide. But I survived, and in that survival I learned the danger of silence. I resolved to speak up, initially only to mental health professionals, and then to family, and then online via blogs and tweets. It was this voice that was heard. It was this voice that led to that initial tag. Silence is deadly.

June 13, 2017 is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Please join me in honouring that day and remembering those who lost their struggle, by sharing your stories.

For more information on Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day, including advice on how you can approach your local municipality, please visit themensden.ca.

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