Written by Addie Van Rijn
We all know that stigma seriously sucks but there seems to be a special kind of stigma surrounding men and mental health. Society has made this unfortunate habit of telling dudes to "man up" and it can make it really tricky to speak up about feelings, emotions and mental health. June 13th is Men's Mental Health Day and in celebration of today, we wanted to highlight a few of our fav male stigma crushers who have spoken up about mental health.
Photo by Sophie Barkham
Chris officially became a member of the #WYLfam this January as one of our very first Brand Ambassadors! He is also the Executive Director of the GET REAL Movement which is a youth-driven non-profit energizing LGBTQA+ youth and their allies share their stories.
“The whole notion of "guys" needing to be as masculine / macho as possible is something that we work with everyday during our workshops with Get REAL. There are many whose view of "what it means to be a man" doesn't leave room for more "traditionally feminine" qualities like opening up, being sensitive, expressing emotion, admitting you're not doing well, or even sadness or grief.
While I haven't personally repressed those things for the above reasons, I have repressed them trying to stay strong for people around me -- employees, family, significant others -- as an entrepreneur. It wasn't that I didn't want to be seen as "weak" or vulnerable, it was more that I felt I had to be there for them if they were going through their own difficult times. So regardless of the "why", I know that repression comes at a price. For me, that price included insomnia, anxiety, and some full on breakdowns and suffocating feelings of not having anyone to talk to. I actually had a friend/mentor ask me how things were one day, at the start of a work meeting. I started to share a bit, and then just completely started crying because there had been so much I hadn't talked about. It was a pretty eye opening experience, because that had never happened to me before (in a work / more public setting).
So I'm very lucky. I have a great support system, and I have great people around me who don't stigmatize mental illness, or vulnerability, as "less than manly" things to talk about. I broke down because my biggest problem is letting people help me and be there for me, not that I'm afraid my friends will consider me less of a "man" if I open up to them. My heart goes out to all of those struggling, who aren't so lucky. That's why I love how diverse the make-up of the Role Model program is. Mental Illness affects people from all walks of life, and hopefully there is somebody involved that just about anyone could look at and say: "I see a lot of myself in that person, and if they can do it, I can do it". Being vulnerable takes a massive amount of courage, and I couldn't think of a trait that is more worth embodying for anybody (not just men), than that. “ - Chris Studer
Josh has worn a lot of hats with Wear Your Label. He joined us last year as a Role Model and was later accepted into our Campus Rep program. As he has graduated this year from his film program at Humber College, he is now moving on as our Brand Ambassador! Josh is an advocate for both mental health and LGBTQA+ and is currently completing an internship in media production with Pride Toronto.
"I think it is incredibly important for men to speak up about their mental health because it is very much real and it does existent despite this obscure stigma that resides around it.
Men should feel comfortable about reaching out for help. They should feel accepted and included in the discussion. If society wants to continue moving forward and bring about positive change, then men need to be incorporated into this discussion. We have feelings and struggles too even though we may not always show it." - Josh Clapp
Dexter was one of our very first Role Models way back in June of 2015. Dexter has since gone on to become a speaker for Jack.org and TedX Talks as well as a contributor on The Mighty, where he discusses his life with depression and the importance of mental health awareness. He chatted with WYL about the stigma he's experienced in his Role Model blog post:
"Growing up as an African Canadian male, I was taught that real men don’t cry. Real men don’t show emotion. Real men don’t get hurt. So, when the event happened, I shuttered up and blamed myself for everything. The years would go by and I would find myself going from school to school as the black kid that was not black enough in the socially stereotypical way or too poor to fit in. I would find myself at university, and then everything would unravel. The constant inability of myself to get up and go to class because I was too anxious to be seen, the disappointment in marks, the financial strains, being homeless and then the vicious cycle of self-medicating through alcohol would begin. People never knew because I seemed so full of life. But I was fighting these demons every night, and wearing a mask I learned to wear oh-so-well when the dawn broke." - Dexter Nyuurnibe
Jacob just joined our little team in April as one of our new Brand Ambassadors. He is a trans advocate and one of the creators of BPD Babes - a project that highlights the lives of those who live with Borderline Personality Disorder. He also hails from WYL's home province of New Brunswick!
"The pressure on men to conform to societal norms is stronger then many people think. As a transgender man I really felt that pressure, as in order to be a "real man" I had to "toughen up". Well I'm here to tell you that the kind "toughening up" you want to do is the kind that can openly speak about mental health issues. Men have mental health too, which means they too can have mental illness. Everyone should feel as though they can openly talk about it, no matter what sex or gender they present as." - Jacob Roy
Michael joined us as a Role Model in November as part of a series on men's mental health in celebration of Movember. Michael lives with depression as well as epilepsy and when asked what he is most proud of himself for, he said he is proud of himself:
"I would have to say that I am mostly proud of myself. With the combination of my epilepsy and my depression I have overcome so much and have found that there is so much to look forward to every day I get up." - Michael Schroeder
You may remember Noah and Dave from our Valentines Series of Role Model Couples. They won our hearts by sharing their story of love and mental illness in their blog post (and also by sharing pictures of their super-cute pups!) Noah lives with depression and Dave with PTSD- together they make a great couple that is helping end the stigma! When asked to tell us a bit about himself in the WYL interview, Noah shared his experience with mental illness and what Dave means to him:
"I just genuinely love to love. I live with depression and suicidal ideation. Over the past 9 years, I’ve had the opportunity to call Dave my partner, my best friend, my backbone, my moon and my stars. He’s my real life Khaleesi." Noah Reich
Paul joined us last year as one of our OG Campus Reps. Together with his co-rep Mariana, Paul helped end the stigma on Queens U Campus. Although he is graduating from Queens this year, he might just be coming back next year as a Campus Rep as he was just accepted into medical school! Congrats, Paul!
"I always find it important to remind people the courage and strength that it takes to reach out for help or start conversations surrounding mental health. It's never a sign of weakness, but rather one of bravery and tenacity" - Paul Barber
In addition to being one of WYL's Brand Ambassadors, Alonso is also an incredible Ballerino in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. In his interview with WYL, he discusses his experiences with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. When asked what advice he would give to his younger self, he says:
"I would tell my younger self to not fear sharing my story. I have received such great responses from sharing my mental illness stories and I know it has helped many people. Talking about personal experiences with mental illness in an unashamed way is the best way to fight stigma. " - Alonso Olvera-Gonzalez
Lance shared his experiences with depression as a Role Model last December but he has been involved with WYL a long time before that. Lance was the videographer and creative hands behind Wear Your Label's first ever press video! He was also one of the co-creators of The DEFINE Project, which was a collaborative art project between himself, textile designer Dee Wilkie and Wear Your Label. Lance is one of the most creative people we know and we are so lucky to have him on our team!
"Talking about mental health is a hard thing to do, even when you're in a positive place. As I get older, I realize that stigma surrounding mental health is very real, no matter who you are. As we get older, as we get "real" jobs, as we become what we think people want us to be; it seems like we are automatically assumed to be mentally healthy. If we appear to have our life together... we must be happy, right?
This is where I have learned that there is a huge stigma. Often times, people do not understand that being happy (or at least having the ingredients to make you stereotypically "happy") does not mean that you cannot also be depressed. Depression is a beast of it's own, unrelated to the fact that you have the best friends and family in the world, a steady income, and no justifiable reason to be anything but content. It is often a battle to convince people that I am depressed... for reasons which I am still figuring out. One piece of this puzzle could be the stigma associated with being a man and the social constructs that come with it.
As male, and as a gay male, you can experience many different layers of stigma. I think growing up gay certainly has a large impact on how you learn to express your emotions and, by extension, address your mental health issues. Growing up in the closet you learn to put on a mask to hide who you are - and I think that has largely translated to who I am as an adult. Although I am openly gay (and very proud to be), I don't think I ever fully learned to take down those walls to be emotionally open and vulnerable. Sometimes when you have had your walls up for so long, and people have perceived you to be "strong", or you are often the one people come to to unload their problems, it is unexpected when you try to turn those tables. Perhaps when you try to open up, you are just perceived as being dramatic or unreasonable.
Point being: stigma can be perpetuated and interpreted from more than one angle; it has to be fought both externally and internally. Actively oppose it for your sake, and for the sake of people to come after you. You never know what ripples you may cause that might affect someone's life for the better." - Lance Kenneth Blakney
Mat is a dancer and student living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We casted Mat as a Role Model for Atlantic Fashion Week and we were blown away with his (role) modelling skills. Mat is a Mental Health Ally and in his WYL interview he shared his thoughts on the stigma that surrounds men talking about mental health:
"I think there is definitely a different stigma surrounding men when it comes to mental illness. In general, people are quick to judge and love to talk. Since men do not really talk about their mental illness, it's perceived as less common and therefore, something that one should potentially be ashamed of. With that being said, I think that there is improvement regarding the matter and that people are starting to realize that living with a mental illness does not make one less of a man. Honestly, I think it's just a part of you that makes you that much more awesome because you push through it everyday. I like to believe that people are becoming more educated on the matter and more accepting, but there is quite a long way to go still. " - Mat Comeau
Sia is one of our newest Brand Ambassadors from Toronto. Sia is the former Creative Director of jack.org and is currently pursuing his doctorate in pharmacy at the University of Toronto. We got a chance to meet up with Sia at our Brand Ambassador meeting when we were in TO and he had the whole room laughing until our stomachs hurt. We love having you on the team, Sia!
“My opinion on men speaking up about mental health is that if they are comfortable, they should do it. So many times growing up I heard silly definitions of what "real men" said, or wore, or sounded like, or looked like. As a 24 year-old aspiring health care professional, I'm all about promoting healthy living. For me (a man!!!) this includes eating well, exercising, hanging out with friends, and expressing my emotions because I don't have the time or energy to hold back because some archaic definition of masculinity says that showing my emotions isn't manly. I identify as male. I'm a man.
1 in 5 people are personally affected by a mental illness, and 100% of people have mental health (this includes men - 100% of people includes men!!). Since 100% of people have mental health, doesn't it make sense for 100% of people to talk about it? Just imagine if men were deemed 'less manly' for talking about their physical health or for seeking medication for any other illness. Health is health and these definitions of what it means to be a "real man" are toxic and divisive. If you identify as a man, you're a man; how you choose to express your emotions (if at all) won't change that.” - Sia Badie
We met Shy last December when WYL took a trip up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Shy is the co-founder of a charity organization called Nova Scotia Cares which helps those affected by forest fires and is also a motivational speaker. Shy says that he is most proud for the work he has done as a speaker in high schools to make the community 'safer for all kinds of people'.
“Men's mental health is sometimes called ‘a silent crisis’, it has to be known that there is no link between masculinity and having a mental illness. Perseverance is strength, waking up every single day is determination, and life is beautiful. Being open about my mental health issues was one of the most self-empowering things I've ever done, I've learned to be honest about who I am and appreciate my life for what it is, despite the hurdles I have and will continue to face.” - Shy Polley
Let's be honest - Jordon is a total rockstar when it comes to being a WYL Role Model. He first shot with us last summer and has since been involved in WYL's showcase in Atlantic Fashion Week and joined our co-founder Kayley for a livestream interview for Bell Let's Talk Day. Not to mention he is always there for a good pep talk and occasionally stops by our office to surprise the staff with coffee!
“Growing up you’re always told to ‘toughen up’, ‘man up’ or ‘grow a set’. You're always told to hide your emotions because ‘boys don't cry’, and while stubbing your toe and suffering from a mental health issue that you have no control over are two majorly different concepts of showing emotions. You suffer in silence because you're scared people will think you’re weak.
As I explained in my Role Model interview and the Bell Lets Talk live stream with WYL, stigma is the main reason why I stayed quiet for so long and as strong as I was leading up to my diagnosis, no one really knew about the real demons that I was fighting alone in my head. Growing up you're told that you shouldn’t do so many things, but how many of those things do you actually end up doing anyway?? So why “be a man” when you can be a warr;or!!” - Jordon Profit
Photo by Jersain Medina
You may remember Rudy from his Brand Ambassador interview back in May where he discussed his experiences with bi polar disorder, anxiety and depression. Rudy lives in sunny LA and is a professional speaker where he helps bring awareness to mental health and makes serious strides in ending the stigma.
"I've noticed progress from when I was younger and was too embarrassed to talk about my emotions to the present society which is slightly more accepting of men being open about how they feel. We still have lots of progress to make but we are headed in the right direction." - Rudy Caseres
Mark became a Role Model this past February and was featured in our Eating Disorders Awareness Magazine. In his interview he discusses the stigma that surrounds men who live with eating disorder:
"[the stigma that surrounds men with ED says] That it’s a ‘feminine’ disorder. That only women are allowed to worry/ care about their weight, and only women are concerned about their figures. The way in which men are ‘supposed’ to look doesn’t help either. Men ‘should’ be strong and have ripped muscles and not worry about what they eat or what they should resemble. I've also gotten people telling me that ‘it’s easy, just eat’ if it only was that easy… when your mind is telling you one thing, but you know you should be doing another, it really isn’t that easy. The standards that men are expected to meet does not affect just one kind of person, but all of us." - Mark Neadow