One day, we’ll break the door right off its hinges and let in light we need to address mental illness without shame

This piece by MP Matt Jeneroux and Louise Bradley was published in the Hill Times on November 19, 2018.

Talk. Ask. Listen. Encourage Action. Check In. These are the tenets of Movember’s campaign to raise awareness about men’s mental health. The wildly popular initiative was created to bring men’s health issues to the fore—encouraging screening and early intervention for a range of illnesses that affect young, middle aged and older men in communities across Canada.

The reality is that if men aren’t talking with friends, colleagues, spouses and families first, they aren’t likely to be seeking professional or medical help.

Mental illness is still viewed as a weakness or limitation and stigma continues to stop men from getting treatment—for everything from anxiety and depression to problematic substance use and operational stress injuries.

But every brave soul who comes forward—whether from the world of politics, sports or first responders—cracks the door open a little wider and lets in more light for us all.  A key frustration that detracts from this progress is the number of lives that mental illness claims through suicide, which is highest among middle-aged men.

That’s why we joined forces to host the inaugural Father’s Day on the Hill event, which was held in Ottawa last June. Its goal was to encourage men to talk about their feelings—and seek help if they are struggling. Its success has spurred us to get to work on next year’s event.

This effort hits close to home for both of us. While we have both walked the road to mental wellness, it’s safe to say that many men experience mental illness differently than women. Keeping the exceptions in mind, depression in men often manifests in aggression, anger, or intractable silence.

It’s not always easy to identify these personality changes as the onset of a mental illness—especially if you are the one experiencing the symptoms. But what holds true for all of us is that the earlier we seek treatment, the better our chances of a full recovery.

Slowly, but surely, men like sports broadcaster Michael Landsberg, a strong proponent of the #sicknotweak message, and former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, a survivor of childhood trauma, are redefining masculinity as owning the courage to raise a hand and ask for help.

For every hand raised, another should be poised and ready to reach out to offer support. For the Movember campaign, there are at least five ways to take those all-important first steps: talk, ask, listen, encourage action, and check in.

Talk to your colleagues. Some may be trained in Mental Health First Aid, and many federal government departments now have mental health champions.

Ask about employee assistance programs, which are readily available for government employees seeking anything from a quick phone call to more involved therapy sessions.

Take a moment to listen to others, and to yourself. If you or someone you know is feeling anxious, stressed, panicked, or simply overwhelmed, it may be time to address it.

Check in with friends and family members this Movember, and don’t be afraid to raise difficult topics.

Encourage action. Stand tall in the knowledge that it takes courage to be vulnerable and strength to ask for help. The only thing that will truly combat stigma is refusing to be bowed by its weight.

Together—by talking, listening, acting and checking in—we will one day break the door right off its hinges and let in the light we need to address mental illness without shame.

Louise Bradley is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Matt Jeneroux, who is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Edmonton Riverbend, Alta., is a vocal advocate for men’s mental health.