Our health is about one of the only things we have a good amount of control over in our lives. We are often taught from a young age to take care of our bodies. As we grow, that means that once you demolish four Oreo pancakes with ice cream and syrup, you should probably do some exercise or use that sugar for good. Having a little sniffle can be the sign of the flu or cold that can have a horrendous impact on your life.
Later on in life, health’s definition changes to other aspects of our health and sexual health. We shave regularly, floss and exfoliate to make sure Jessica knows we are ready to mingle. We make sure to keep clean and often smelling good and presentable. We are encouraged to use condoms and take STI tests after switching sexual partners to preserve our health.
Our mental health is the area we slack in. There is a large argument that can be made that we don’t need to tell young children about mental health, because if it doesn’t exist to them it won’t affect them (which we don’t entirely agree with but it is a thing so we have to reference it). On the other hand we have activists like Lucy McSweeney in Auckland who is petitioning to attain better mental health education in New Zealand schools, identifying the fact that it maybe one of the reasons why our suicide and self-harm statistics are through the roof.
Like with many social problems in Aotearoa, we can place much of the blame within our culture. Like with the idea that there is still such a thing as the ‘Kiwi Dream’ and it is equally attainable for those who can “choose” to put in the “hard-work” to achieve it. There is a toxic culture surrounding mental health in our country, especially when concerning young men. Yes, you see status after status on facebook about how we DO have a problem and that we need to “talk about it”, the discussion remains relatively silent. While some may compare mental health with physical health in an attempt to persuade people to seek help, in New Zealand there still persists a “Buck Shelford continued playing with a hole in his nutsack”, “she’ll be right”, “just duct tape your whole face back on cuz” type attitude that does transfer to mental health, before we even look at the stigma associated with it.
As far as male mental health stigma goes in men: it can be partially explained through toxic masculinity and problematic gender roles. Essentially, the role of men in society to be strong and unemotional, aside from a few “acceptable” moments like a breakup or a child-birth. The toxicity of such a role comes when someone feels it is socially unacceptable in their social circle to express certain feelings, or say certain things about how they are feeling.
Although depression and suicide are often at the forefront of these discussion, other mental illnesses that are perhaps less “glamorous” or perhaps harder to deal with such as Schizophrenia or Borderline-Personality-Disorder are often not talked about. While politicians are expressing our homelessness problem as a result of the housing crisis, they are neglecting the fact that our homeless population is plagued with mental health issues, and they are not limited to depression. The largest argument from those whose parents own a house, is that the mental health issues are just a scapegoat to being drug-addicted and lazy homeless people.
Every article will give you the scathing piece of advice you have been looking for, but we can’t give you that. We are merely two university students denying our own mental health issues, whether they be large or small. I can’t give you the words to make you feel better, nor can I do the magic dance that will make the tightness in your brain go away. Everyone has a specific story and a specific way of handling their own problems.While this column may just serve as another hollow reminder of a problem that remains persistent despite all the well-meaning, we hope to just tell you to look after yourself. Take a day off work and hang out with friends, buy a cat; fuck, quit your job if you can, drop out. While we don’t mean to trivialise the complex nature of mental health and illness and in no way suggest these things will cure anything, just that stress is no good for anyone.
Above all thanks for the views and feedback we have received for the last few columns & videos. We are very grateful and plan to deliver much more.
Kii x Tom