Strong But Not Silent: Men open up about breaking the stigma of men’s mental health

Men are between two and three times more likely to complete suicide than women, yet they are less likely to get help. It’s a problem, phycologists agree needs to be talked about.

“They are concerned about burdening loved ones about their pain so they withhold it and that can make it challenging to help. People often describe ‘I didn’t know it was that bad for him,’” said Stephen Walker with Calgary Counselling Centre, adding many men who lose their lives don’t leave a note.

Read more: Men are less likely to seek help for mental health — and the pandemic is making it worse

As part of the Strong But Not Silent series, Global News has been sharing the brave stories of men who are enduring grief, loss, pain, illness and all the turmoil and emotional stress that comes with it.

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For some, the adversity they’ve experienced has reconfigured their approach to their own mental well being. It’s forced them to step out of their comfort zones and abandon conditioned ideas, for example, that they need to react — or in a lot of cases not react — in a certain way because of their gender.

READ SERIES: Strong But Not Silent 

For others, the trials they are facing have just reconfirmed what they have always known — that bottling it up often does more harm than good.

During Men’s Health Awareness Month, the group came together in a zoom chat. Strangers, men, talking about their feelings. All four admitted to having experienced times of depression and anxiety.

“Sadness — everything just coming down on you,” Aran Lee, a two-time cancer survivor, recalled. “Once it starts spiraling downwards it’s hard to get out of.”

Read more: Cancer survivor says emotional toll of diagnosis changed his perspective on men’s mental health

“I wouldn’t go much lower than a five on a bad day, but now it’s like you start at three sometimes and you’ve got to crawl to get to a five,” said former Global Calgary news anchor Gord Gillies, who is mourning the loss of his son.

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“You sort of feel numb; the things that used to make you happy aren’t doing it for you anymore,” said Ryan Straschnitzki, Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor.

“I had five different people give me a book called It’s OK that you’re not OK… that’s a pretty good sign you’re not OK,” said Adam Campbell, who lost his wife in an avalanche.

Click to play video 'Former Calgary news anchor shares story of navigating grief following the death of his son' Former Calgary news anchor shares story of navigating grief following the death of his son

Former Calgary news anchor shares story of navigating grief following the death of his son

While all of these men have reached out for professional help, it is not the norm. Grief counsellor Tracy Sutton said many men still subscribe to the idea that they have to be strong and stoic, but it’s not working.

“It’s not helping in these situations. I think actually reaching out and asking for help when we are navigating something as truly life-changing as bereavement loss can be a sign of resiliency and strength,” she said.

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Read more: Canmore athlete shares harrowing story of heartbreak and hope following death of wife in avalanche

While all of the men we spoke to in our series admit opening up can be incredibly painful and can shove them into a state of vulnerability they all have the same motives for sharing their personal story: hope, that someone else might see what they have experienced and know they are not the only ones.

“For me, it was tough having these emotions, I felt I was the only one,” said Straschnitzki, who shared how the pandemic forced him to address the state of his mental health.

“That’s the thing, we have to realize we are not alone,” Lee said.

Click to play video 'Ryan Straschnitzki says pandemic has led to ‘darkest days’ since Humboldt bus crash' Ryan Straschnitzki says pandemic has led to ‘darkest days’ since Humboldt bus crash

Ryan Straschnitzki says pandemic has led to ‘darkest days’ since Humboldt bus crash

While stigma is often a huge barrier, knowing how to help someone in a season of difficulty can also be crucial.

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“What works for me is little check-ins, you know, someone just saying, ‘Thinking about you,’ and it helps,” Gillies said.

Read more: ‘This wasn’t a choice’: Retired journalist Gord Gillies speaks out on mental health after son’s death

“You don’t need to offer a solution, just say ‘I hear you, I see you… I’m here to listen to you,’” Campbell said.

“It’s getting over that mental barrier and knowing people will be super accepting,” Straschnitzki added.

Lee said he needs to figure out what he needs himself and then let people know how they can support him.

Each journey is individual, but all of these very strong men agree, that not staying silent has been key in their path forward even if it’s just one moment at a time.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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