Today Collingwood star, Harry O’Brien made a heartfelt plea for privacy from the media and the public as he deals with personal issues, including thoughts of suicide and depression as a result of sexual abuse. While the details of the incidents that O’Brien has suffered have not been released to the public, I think it is important that he be applauded for standing up and acknowledging these issues and bringing the discourse of mental health into public view. O’Brien has said that these details will be made public over time as he works through them and overcomes his inner demons.
The society in which we live has for too long preferred to ignore mental health and more importantly the people who suffer from depression or have experienced such horrendous abuse. Mental health issues have always, and continue to be seen as a sign of weakness in men, and something that is all too often swept under the carpet to make it easier for everyone to deal with. Everyone that is except the person who is at the centre of the suffering. This is particularly prevalent in a society that places so much emphasis on the celebration of ‘real men’ and sport.
In recent times, the acknowledgement of depression among men has come to the forefront due to organisations such as Beyond Blue and awareness campaigns such as Movember. Despite the awareness of such issues being on the rise, there is still a negative stigma in our society around depression and mental illness.
10 years ago, over the space of 18 months, I had two of my best friends take their own lives due to drug use and the related drug-induced psychosis. The initial feeling of sadness at losing a friend in the prime of their life is something that I would not wish on my worst enemy. This sadness is only trumped by the feeling of guilt that follows and will be with me for the remainder of my life. The guilt of knowing that I sat idly by watching my friends self-destruct has in turn led to my own series of personal issues. It took me a long time to come to the realisation that their decision to take their lives was not a direct result of my lack of action, but what still pains me now is knowing that speaking up could have made a difference. I realise now that we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, however none of us can exist and lead a full and happy life without the support and care of our loved ones.
Over the years, these feelings of guilt have led to a change in my demeanour, the breakdown of relationships and a reduced sense of self-worth. It is only now, years later that I can talk about this after a long time of working through the guilt and issues plaguing my thoughts. My reasons for writing all this down on paper are to not only stand up and create awareness but to make you think about the ramifications of sitting by and saying nothing at all. If you know someone who is experiencing any kind of mental illness, or if you yourself feel like you need to talk to someone, the seemingly awkward moment of speaking up is far easier than the years of torment caused by saying nothing at all. It is time to speak up.
If you feel strongly about the issue of mental health, want more information on mental health and men’s health, or would like to donate to these causes, visit http://www.beyondblue.org.au or http://www.au.movember.com