This article was written by freelance contributor Lauren Miner
Content Warning: This article discusses suicide and mental illness
In September of 2020, a mental health crisis emerged in Southern Alberta. Only two short hours away from Lethbridge, my hometown of Medicine Hat was struck with an alarming increase of male deaths by suicide. Within weeks, multiple young men ranging from those just starting families to those still in middle school, took their own lives, leaving family and friends confused and blindsided by the tragedy. In a culture of “masculine bravado,” mental health is rarely spoken about and cries for help are often buried behind weak smiles and chest pumps. This crisis needs a revolution and if I can spark change in the eyes of just a few people, maybe the resulting ripple will be enough to bring the discussion of mental health out from closed doors.
In light of recent events and ones far past…. This is my response.
I want to tell everyone suffering that they are worth something much beyond themselves, that the world needs them, but I too have danced with the devil on my shoulder and know that words fall deaf on ears ringing with white noise.
I could say that it gets better, but that same devil comes and goes as he pleases, and I can not promise things will not get worse.
I could share suicide hotlines and crisis text numbers, retweet and re-post strategies and coping mechanisms that will help get you through the rough patches, but not everything works for everyone, and you only need to slip up once.
I could do a lot of things, and I will continue to do a lot of things. But as a fighter myself, I know what it’s like to be in that deep dark hole; the void filling up inside you, where you know, not feel, that things will not get better.
The fight gets exhausting and the weight of expectations, of the primal need to survive, can become overbearing when you fight alone.
Instead I offer a call for help. We are amidst a crisis that necessitates a call for action. Everyone has fought that internal battle at some point in their lives and knows the relief and catharsis when they have a shoulder to lean on to ease the load. This is not a battle we can win purely through good intentions and open wallets. What we need is to talk to one another.
Normalizing mental health is our first battle.
But how? As a university student studying English with a passion for working with youth, I spend hours of my days analyzing our language, and here are some places to start.
Ask more thoughtful questions
Instead of starting a conversation off with “how’ve you been?” ask questions that incite more than a “fine” or “good”. Encourage a dialogue with direct, specific questions that foster a sharing environment from the get-go. When we sit with our children and ask them “what was something that made you really happy today?” or “can you teach me something new you learned in school recently?” we allow them to open up and feel heard and cared about.
As a society we teach young boys to “man up” or “stop being a pussy”. Overall, those who identify as men are much less likely to share and ask these kinds of direct questions in their peer groups for fear of seeming “sensitive” or “girly”. Stop encouraging these toxic gender norms and instead promote a healthy dialogue from a young age. Let young men have feelings, and do not discredit their emotions.
You can always say “I’m here if you want to talk” and I’m sure your friends will occasionally take you up on that, but when people need it most, it can be hard to reach out.
What if when we talked to our closest friends and family we asked straight-forward, no bullshit, to the point questions with empathy in our hearts? Everyone struggles, but many try to push their feelings down and hide it better than others. When we empathize with someone who is struggling and approach them with words like “that must be so hard, how can I best support you?” we create a safe space where they can feel heard with judgement, a space where they won’t be judged for being vulnerable. When we get angry or tease our peers simply for sharing what they are feeling, we lock them inside, alone with their biggest fears.
Open the Conversation
Listen without interruption or judgement. Talk to your friends and open up about your own mental health. Let your kids know that it’s okay to feel down. Talk to your doctors, your neighbours, your family, your coworkers, your partner and normalize the conversation. Everyone struggles, but some of us hide it better than others. Let them know they’re not alone.
Let’s talk about mental health more than the couple of designated days a year. Call out those who are resistant to the subject, offer to educate and listen, usually they’re the ones who need some help.
Discussing emotions should not be something we need to build up the confidence to do, by opening the dialogue we dilute the stigma of sharing our feelings day by day.
Take care of yourself first
Give yourself some room to breathe as well. Take a day off, see your doctor, take your medicine, nurse your own body and mind. Especially during this odd time in our world where everyone is struggling to some extent. Before you can help someone else, you need to take care of yourself. Be open with those around you about how you are feeling, use campus or community mental health resources and take the time you need for yourself. Can you imagine how different our world would be if we treated mental health as seriously as we would treat the flu or a broken leg?
You cannot pour from an empty cup.
Tell your own story
I’ve alluded to this before, but this is one of the scariest things to do and what it all comes back to. This is how we can normalize the conversation, and this is how we can take care of ourselves. Listen to others but let them know they are not alone in the struggle. Men, this is especially for you. No one has gone their whole lives without a bad day, and pretending like you’re fine only enables others to do the same. Talk about your struggles, engage your peers, you would be surprised at how many can relate. By changing how you act and speak to those around you, you make a world of difference. Your small change can ripple out and touch the lives of many.
And finally, please, if nothing else, stop telling men to “just man up”. I have yet to meet a man who does not cry, but I have met far too many that do it alone.
*Neither Lauren Miner nor the Meliorist are mental health experts and this article is not professional health advice. If you are feeling down, or contemplating thoughts of suicide please reach out to the following:
University of Lethbridge and Alberta Mental Health Resources:
The health centre’s website has a directory specifically for mental health concerns. You can call them at 403-329-2484 or e-mail at email@example.com
Once you have had an initial appointment you may be referred to the on-site Psychiatrist.
Call or email to book a Zoom counselling appointment. More information is also available at uleth.ca under Counselling Services.
Call them at 403-317-2845 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Distress and Suicide Prevention line of Southwestern Alberta available 24/7 by phone at 403-327-7905
Visit the Chinook Regional Hospital 960- 19th St. S, Lethbridge AB.
Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line – 877-3030-2642
Crisis Text Line- Text CONNECT to 741741