Roles vs. Labels
We all fulfill numerous roles in life. Two of my many roles in life are that of being a father and a mental health nurse. I take pride in both these roles.
As a father I have a responsibility to my children, myself and society as a whole to raise my children to be happy, healthy and loved. Society as a whole applauds positive parenting. Within my role as a mental health nurse, this is arguably viewed by others as being a professional vocation.
There is another role in life I have. And that is I was recently a service user of mental health services. I suffer from depression.
On a personal level, I feel I manage my depression as best I can. As I am proud of my role as a father and a mental health nurse, I am equally as proud of how I manage my ongoing mental health difficulties. I am incredibly passionate about challenging society's stigmatisation of mental health. This is why I write such articles. However, I am guilty of allowing society to make me feel less comfortable about expressing my pride around the management of my depression compared to the pride I take in being a nurse and a father.
Anecdotally, I would argue that being a mental health nurse is seen as being a role within society. However society unfortunately views, or more appropriately put, attributes being a mental health service user as a label.
This is despite the numerous ongoing campaigns that attempt to bring the subject of mental health more into the public domain. There still very much remains a stigma around the subject. And furthermore, in my opinion there is even more of a stigma around men's mental health.
Prior to writing this article, I reflected on the above points. As a society we are collectively guilty of buying into certain stereotypes. Such viewpoints have been present throughout history. Society views the role of being a man as one of strength, courage and resilience. Phrases such as 'man up', 'be a man' are neither helpful or supportive in the wrong context.
Rather shockingly The Office of National Statistics reported that 75% of the 6,122 suicides in 2014 were undertaken by men. That equates to an alarming 12 men per day. Statistically, many of these men were not in any ongoing contact with mental health services.
In terms of fatherhood, men are encouraged to be 'hands on' and rightly so, why not? However from my own experiences, (that are far beyond the scope of this article) I am all too aware of the disparity between men and women in child custody issues following separation or divorce.
From my own lived experience in managing my depression I know how dark and all-consuming such a condition can be become. From my professional experience as a mental health nurse on an acute psychiatric ward I have seen far too many men in an arguably unnecessary acute crisis. Simply seeking help when already in crisis. This I feel is due to the unrealistic expectation to be strong, courageous and resilient enough to face even the most debilitating psychiatric conditions.
Labels when used and attributed appropriately have a use, they most certainly do. They signpost individuals to support networks and services. However stereotypes, misplaced perceptions and outdated generalisations will continue for as long as we allow it. I feel that we all have a social responsibility and moral obligation to turn such terminology around to our advantage. Language by its very nature evolves over time, as do societal values and expectations.
To conclude, I am a father, a nurse and a mental health service user. I am equally proud of all these roles.
For his own reasons, which we're not going into here, he wanted to keep his identity private (hence the rather unusual photo he provided). As always, we're more than happy to oblige and completely respect his decision. What do you make of what he had to say? Have you gone through parental alienation? How has it impacted on your own mental health? Let us know in the comments below.