Mental Health Awareness Week: A Case Study
9 May 2017
“I’m a 35 year old west-of-Scotland male. I’m a graphic designer; a husband; a father; a son; a best friend. I also have depression.”
Meet James. He’s battled with his mental health ever since he lost his father at 15. He felt that – by admitting to his problems – he was letting his family down. He felt that he couldn’t live up to the stereotype of a “manly man” that his dad was.
“In my family, we didn’t talk about feelings. My dad was a typical working class guy and we certainly didn’t sit down and have a cry and a cuddle together. He was very much of the thinking that men just got on with things.
“When he died, there was obviously a lot of grief amongst the family. But while everyone else managed to get themselves back on their feet eventually, I was still troubled.”
At the time, James didn’t realise he was depressed and struggled to keep up with school work, friends and normal family life.
“But I put a mask on the struggle. It was a case of keeping up appearances to get myself in to uni and move on. I don’t think I really understood what was going on inside my own head.”
University also proved difficult. Although James was able to turn up to classes and finish his degree, he struggled at times with the social aspect and began heavily drinking on nights out.
“I realised then that I was at least attempting to deal with some sort of anxiety about going out and I was getting myself blind drunk to cope with it. When I woke up in a door way, covered in my own sick, I knew I had to get help.
“It wasn’t easy. I made and cancelled four doctor’s appointments before finally going through with talking about it. I sat in silence for a few minutes before everything came pouring out. I felt so relieved.
“My doctor recommended anti-depressants and cognitive behavioural therapy. The first two kinds of medication did not agree with me at all, and my mood became lower while I was waiting to get a slot for therapy. It was a really dark time in my life.
“But the cognitive behavioural therapy was amazing. It felt like I was training my brain to think in different ways and deal with my social anxiety in a better manner. It’s almost like distracting yourself.”
And, as chance would have it, during this dark time, James met his now wife. They have been married for eight years and share two sons together. He holds down a full-time job. He lives in a nice house and goes on holiday once a year. On the surface, he appears to have a perfectly normal life.
But his depression has, at times, badly affected his relationship with his wife.
“When we first started going out, I didn’t want to tell her that I had been to a doctor and was on anti-depressants. I thought she would think I was weak. But, obviously, when I was experiencing a particularly bad time of it, I couldn’t really hide it any more.
“She begged me to talk to her about how I was feeling. She would get so upset. But, growing up, I was told that men didn’t have discussions about their feelings or cry. I had no idea how to express myself to her.
“Sometimes, even now, she looks at me like she wishes so badly that she could help. Or that she doesn’t understand why I won’t come to her and share my thoughts. I know she wants to help.”
James also fears that his issues with his mental health could be affecting his sons.
“My boys are only little just now. But there will come a point when they are old enough to notice my ups and downs. I have no idea what they are going to think of me. I’m also scared that I have somehow passed this on to them – I wouldn’t wish how I feel at times on anyone.”
But, having a mental health issue does not prevent anyone from living a full and meaningful life. James has been working at his current job for three years. Whilst depression can influence on how he feels some days, he’s determined not to let impact on his working life.
“Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when I have pulled the duvet over my head and phoned in sick. I couldn’t cope. I used to think it would be unfair to inflict one of my worst days on my colleagues.
“How are they supposed to react when I’m sitting in complete silence, or snapping at everyone or just absolutely sobbing? This vicious circle of thought used to make me feel even worse and less likely to return to work.
“Now, I see things differently. My wife actually encouraged me to make my line manager aware of my depression. It was an awkward conversation I did not want to have. But I am glad I did. Now, I can maybe take a work-from-home day instead of completely avoiding my responsibilities.
“None of my colleagues treat me any differently and there aren’t any alienating outpourings of tea and sympathy.”
James believes that there is not enough support for mental health services throughout Scotland, particularly ones that encourage young males to speak about their feelings in a safe space.
“Unless you suffer with it, you have no idea what depression is like. Some days I literally want to step outside my own brain. You can be paranoid; thinking absolutely stupid thoughts that can haunt you for weeks. You think no one cares. Your train of thought can become so irrational and, to be quite honest, frightening at times. Your perception of reality goes completely out the window.
“There have been times when I have contemplated suicide.”
In Scotland, approximately 19 males in every 100,000 will take their own life. The figure for females is approximately 7.
“As guys, we need to be talking about this sort of thing. With our wives, our families, our friends, our work colleagues. We need to stop using euphemisms and being polite and just be honest when we are having a terrible time of it – even if we don’t understand why. We need to stop thinking that how we feel is something we should be ashamed of.
“I’m not ‘James with depression.’ I’m just James … And, sometimes, I need help with that.”
If you have been affected by reading this case study, we encourage you to contact on organisation like See Me Scotland for advice and support on coping with mental health needs.
Written By Mary Palmer