Thursday 6th February marks Time to Talk Day 2020, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of talking in order to end the stigma that can still surround mental health. Male mental health in particular is often still seen as a taboo, but there are men across the globe taking action to end this to change the landscape for the better. One of these is Mike Douglas, who blogs about his own mental health at Mike’s Open Journal and also runs the MOJO podcast, which aims to open up the conversation around this topic. For this Time to Talk Day, we asked him to share his story.
At the start of the last decade, I was recently married and moved to Australia for a year with my new wife, with a view to make it a permanent move in the future. After 11 months, we returned to the UK, planning to start a family, but as soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew something was wrong and I that I wanted to be back in Australia.
You might think that a low mood or simply feeling sad would be ‘normal’ after the trip of a lifetime had ended, but I was really struggling, and found it hard to find work I enjoyed back home. Soon after, my wife left me with little warning, and my low mood became a fully-fledged depression. I carried on working and closed myself off, trying not to think about my emotions.
Finding an Emotional Outlet Via Writing
When I started to experience thoughts of self-harm, I realised I couldn’t carry on like this. I knew I needed an outlet for my thoughts and emotions, and started to write about what I was thinking and feeling. This really helped me to express what was happening at that time. To start with, I didn’t share this anywhere – I just wrote everything down in a notebook – but it helped.
I started to think about sharing my thoughts, but I wasn’t sure how and I was scared of what other people would say or think about me. But then I remembered the blog I’d started when I moved to Australia to keep friends and family updated, and it sparked a thought that creating a mental health blog could be a good outlet.
Sharing my experiences through blogging has led to conversations I don’t think I ever would have had otherwise. People have told me they’ve felt encouraged to seek support after reading my posts, or felt more comfortable opening up to others. Although it started as a tool to support my own wellbeing, knowing that my blog has provided support to other people has immeasurable value, and I hope I’ve made a little dent in that stigma barrier.
Podcasting: It’s Good to Talk
As my wellbeing improved, I became more confident getting involved in mental health-related conversations, and I wanted to hear from other people, to learn from their experiences, educate myself more, and feel less alone. This led me to setting up the MOJO Podcast, which focuses on mental health, mental illness, wellness, stigma and support. At the end of 2019, we’d had more than 160 episodes and over 75 guests from the UK, Europe, North America and New Zealand. To be able to provide people with stories of shared experience while raising awareness is something I’m extremely proud of and feel very privileged to be able to do.
My passion for sharing stories has continued to grow, and I founded the Mental Health Blog Awards in 2017. This provides me with an opportunity to say thank you to some of the amazing and inspirational people who’ve shared their own stories in the hope that they might help someone else.
I’m still surprised sometimes by all of this; as a dyslexic male, talking, writing and communicating has never been my strong point, but it’s only over time with improved confidence and understanding that I’ve been able to speak more openly about my experiences.
Talking Could Save Your Life
I’m delighted that from creating a tool to support my own wellbeing, I now receive opportunities to visit local and occasionally national events, activities and campaigns, where I can start even more conversations and raise even more awareness of mental health and wellbeing tools.
Statistics from Mind show that people can often take more than a year to open up about their mental health struggles or symptoms, with men overall less likely to visit their GP or mental health services, and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.
This is why it’s so important to find an outlet for your emotions, whether that’s writing, talking to loved ones, or even therapy – always remember that conversations can and do change and save lives.
Find out more about Mike’s journey over on his blog or by following him on social media @Mike_Douglas_.