Not long ago, I spoke at an event for educators focused on mental health and suicide prevention.
When I speak to adults – especially adults that work with students, I try to find out what they have been through in order to determine an appropriate theme for my presentation. My job, as it is with my youth programs, is to connect with where they are and on their level.
On this particular morning I decided to talk about our mental health and overall mental well-being – who we are, where we are, where we’re going and how we are going to get there. This became more of a motivational, uplifting presentation on who we were personally and professionally – because I think who we are professionally helps us personally, and vice versa.
In talking about that, I didn’t have a problem being transparent and sharing my story – and after an almost two-hour presentation, I got a standing ovation. That was awesome, and meant a lot to me. People were waiting in line to see me. Some thanked me for my service in the Marine Corps, and some thanked me for coming to speak. Others told me that I was much different from what they expected in a speaker. I loved that.
I am always grateful and flattered that people choose to listen.
Eventually, a gentleman came up to me. He was probably 6’2” or 6’3” – a good-looking man – and he shared with me that my presentation was very coincidental. He told me that he didn’t know the theme of my talk that morning, but he had opened up to his wife the night before that he was starting to have thoughts of suicide.
I just looked him in the eyes and I said “thank you.” I reached out and touched him on both arms and told him that it took a lot of courage to share his heart – especially with a spouse or significant other. I said, “I am so proud of you.”
I asked him where he was at that moment and he told me he didn’t know.
Long story short, we took care of it and everything is going well. I am in touch with this man, and everybody is on board to help, including school administrative personnel and counselors. The gentleman is getting the help he needs, and I am proud beyond words
Here’s the thing: Many men are still macho – and there’s a stigma attached to any form of mental illness – and much of my work is centered on breaking this stigma – but many struggling men still refuse to talk about anything that might be perceived as weakness. I am proud of this man because he has such a great platform to be able to share his story – but more importantly, he opened his heart because something didn’t feel right – a thought, a feeling, an emotion he might have had buried for quite a while came to the surface and he found the courage to tell somebody about it.
I got a message from him later that if it wasn’t for the way I spoke that morning – being transparent and inviting people to feel – he may not have opened up to me that day.
It’s OK to ask for help.
Could this be you? Are you struggling? Do you now somebody who is struggling?
Mental illness is not something that is prejudiced toward anyone – and it affects people in different ways. It could be a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of stress – a little bit of being overwhelmed.
I’m not even talking about clinical diagnoses like major depression, dysthymia, bipolar or schizophrenia – I’m talking about the big picture. If you or somebody you know falls into that big picture, my friends – it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK if you don’t fully understand your thoughts and feelings – and it’s especially OK to talk to a mental health professional about this.
This person is trained to make it all about you – to help you dive deeper and figure out some tools that you can use in coping with different situations in your life – tools that can give you the problem-solving skills you need when something triggers an emotion. With these tools, you can recognize the situation that brought on that particular emotion and deal with it in a healthy and proactive way.
You might find that you can benefit from a mood stabilizer, temporarily. I don’t know, but the bottom line is this: If you don’t practice self-care, then it’s easy for things to escalate and manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.
If you live a sedentary lifestyle or feel isolated – or if you are isolating yourself (and I think the Internet, social media and smartphones lend themselves to that) – and you notice that you are starting to feel a little down and depressed, I encourage you to break the cycle.
As a man who lives with major depression, I’ll tell you something that I think works for most people. It’s not easy sometimes, but in a way it’s easy…
You get up. You start moving, and I’ll tell you why that’s important: Motion changes emotion.
Do things you like to do – and as a result, you will feel better. Maybe it’s going for a hike. Maybe it’s exercising or lifting weights. Maybe it’s spending time with your family or going to church. Maybe it’s playing bingo or coloring…
Do things you like. That will change your feelings, and ultimately your feelings have an effect on your behavior.
What do you like? What are your hobbies? What picks you up?
Get up. Dress up. Show up – and all of a sudden, things are going to start to change. You are going to start feeling better. You will be more confident, more self-aware. Your self-esteem will soar and you will have a heightened sense of value. This is a significant improvement from where you were as a result of not doing anything and being depressed.
But this easy fix might not be all there is to it. Maybe there’s a chemical imbalance at play or maybe you do need to talk to someone. The short-term behavioral action that I just shared with you is like taking a bath . We should do it every day. But in long-term. it could be something a little bit more serious, and getting the help you need that is going to make getting up a little lot easier.
I am proud of this man for reaching out. I am proud of him for being vulnerable and sharing with me – and I am proud that he is starting to do the work.
Jeff Yalden is a speaker and Amazon bestselling author focusing on mental health, motivation and suicide prevention. Find out more about Jeff and The Jeff Yalden Foundation HERE.
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This content is based on an upcoming episode of Jeff’s podcast, Mental Health and Motivation: The Unlikely Life Coach. Listen and subscribe HERE.