As part of our Calling Out the Men campaign, I wanted to give you some insight into some real life stories around emotional wellbeing for men in business.
I’d like to thank Simon for taking the time to talk about his challenges and experiences.
What is it about the Calling Out the Men campaign that you’re drawn to?
There needs to be way more awareness around male mental health. I’ve suffered for a very long time, every since my parents got divorced when I was 5 years old. I was shocked to hear that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35, but I wasn’t surprised. As a society we need to change the way we deal with male feelings and emotions and I hope my contribution will help.
What experiences have you (or any other men you know) had around emotional wellbeing challenges? How have you/they managed?
I’ve grown up surrounded by people with mental health issues as well as having my own. My sister was taken into care aged 12, and we later found out she was bi-polar. My own problems started with my Mum and Dads divorce when I was 5, which hit me hard. Growing up I naturally took on the role of ‘man of the house’ and felt like I had to be a ‘good lad’ and stay strong for my Mum and sister. My Grandad wasn’t a positive father figure in my life at all. Having had a harsh Scottish upbringing himself, he bullied everyone in the family, including me. He told me that I was just a little boy and didn’t know how to be a real man. Having no father figure around, nobody to come and watch me play football at the weekends and support me growing up, was tough. Yet my Mum was and still is amazing. I’m in awe of how strong she is despite the damage my Grandad did to her the family.
Through my depression I kept my head down and just kept going. I got my diploma in catering and entered into the industry. To cope I self-medicated with drink and drugs and went to work every day with my game face on. I felt like I had to do just get on with it. Working in the very male dominated catering industry with a lot of ego’s and bravado, there’s a lot of competition and no room for ‘p*ssies’. I got to a point where I simply couldn’t take it anymore, broke down and had to get professional help.
You see it so much in this industry. I think a lot more men are suffering than people realise. Drink and drugs are rife. People are using cocaine in the toilets just to get through the day. There’s a lot of unhelpful banter, yet nobody actually talks. I think men have a real problem with talking and they tend to bottle everything up and just get on with it, like I did. In my experience in the catering industry, we drink a lot, take a lot of drugs, get stuck in a rut, don’t get help and lead a lonely life of suffering. It’s a tough industry and I’m sure US chef Anthony Bourdain’s suicide had a lot to do with the pressure he was under.
I have a close mate who’s going through something similar. I can pick him up and support him as I’ve been there. I get it. I’m a shoulder for him to cry on when he needs it and it feels good to be able to help him.
Another catering assistant I worked with told us all elaborate stories about his life, that he was in a metal band and was writing a book in his spare time. We later found out it was all lies. He’d created a whole different persona and because of the pressure of working in the industry, felt like he couldn’t be himself. It was really sad.
What do you think needs to happen next? And how can this campaign help?
I’d just like to tell anyone reading this that you’re not alone. And most importantly, talk to someone, you don’t have to battle through on your own.
I’m glad to say that it’s been 10 years since my counselling and I’ve turned my life around. I’m married, my wife is pregnant, we moved into a new house last year and life is good. I understand now that my depression came from my childhood experiences and was exacerbated by the competitive, male dominated industry that I work in.
If we raise awareness amongst young men, teenagers in particular, this could be ground breaking. I’m not sure who teenagers are into these days, but we need good role models speaking out about their own mental health issues.
I still have my off days but I now have the tools to manage them. My wife is great, she listens and she understands. When I feel myself getting low again, I concentrate on the positives. The things I can be grateful for.
I’m proof that you can get help, turn it around and feel better.