Tag Archives: men

Big Boys Don’t Cry – Guest blog by Hannah Malcolm

This summer, a Christian guy I know (and once knew a lot better) committed suicide. How do you process something like that? What terrible place did he reach that he felt he had to end his life to escape ‘the darkness’ (his words) that surrounded him? Where was his God when he cried out in pain – and why did he not feel able to reach out and tell anyone before life became unbearable? He was from a loving Christian family, and was part of a vibrant, active church – and yet he didn’t feel able to share his pain with anyone while he was alive.

It’s time that we acknowledge a big problem – a gap in the Church’s support (or even acknowledgement) that men struggle with depression too. Over the last few years, some fantastic books have been written by women (for women) on the topic of Christian life and depression or eating disorders – but men have not yet received the same kind of support.

Perhaps it comes down to the same old perceptions of what men and women struggle with – so often, Church pastoral work and accountability seems to focus on sex for men and self-image for women.

Perhaps it is a leftover of the ‘stiff-upper lip’ stereotype; men don’t feel able to explain how they are feeling because they don’t think they should. Perhaps it’s a lack of awareness about what depression is actually like – they don’t recognise that they are sick, and so don’t seek help.

Perhaps it is also the result of a slightly warped view of the biblical roles of manhood and womanhood, leaving men feeling as though they need to be strong and servant-hearted, and should be the ones looking after the women, not struggling with supposedly ‘feminine’ issues themselves.

Whatever the case, something needs to change for men in the Church. They don’t all have to start talking about their feelings, but they should certainly know that they are able to if they need help.

Is mental ill health the great unspeakable sin for men? There are two problems with such a view.

  1. Poor mental health is not a sin, it is a sickness. It is not always (or even often) associated with spiritual weakness.
  2. No sin should be unspeakable if we are relying on the grace of God and not our own strength. As Paul wrote, ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Cor. 11:30). It is in weakness that ‘the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ (2 Cor. 12:9)

Hannah blogs regularly over at http://purposefulpurity.blogspot.co.uk.

When you have nothing left to give. By Luke Maxted

A special guest blog by Luke Maxted…

Last week I read a blog featured by Sorted (a Christian men’s magazine) which was a response to the tragic death of Gary Speed. It commented on the way in which men deal with their emotions, on the fact that men are now apparently more likely than women to commit suicide. In England and Wales a man under 35 is more likely to die at his own hands than any other cause. The blog cited most men’s inability to share in times of struggle as a major factor in this statistic.

In many ways I’m one of those men.

I’ve never been good at telling people how I feel. I very rarely admit to finding life difficult, but I am learning. I don’t have many pretensions about what a man should or shouldn’t do/say/feel so please don’t chalk it up to an ill conceived notion of masculinity. I just find it hard.

In finding it hard, however, there feels some value in trying. The piece by Sorted made me wonder if my sharing here may allow those who suffer from depression to feel that they might be able to share with someone. Maybe just talking about mental health might allow for some of us to know that it is ok to talk about. Please don’t misunderstand this as a cry for help, thanks to a loving wife, good friends and a gracious God I have that. I just hope that some honesty might allow for conversation.

Today has not been a good day, that’s possibly what made today the day to write. I got up this morning and managed to read a few chapters of various books, made a few hundred words of notes, but this afternoon has been a write off. I’ve tried different things, I went for a walk, changed topic, read a different book but all I can really feel is a deep sadness. The frustrating thing is that I can’t work out when I first came to feel this way.

My earliest memory is being 4 years old and sitting in my room, hitting my head on a wall telling myself that I wasn’t good at anything. My Dad wondered what the noise was and found me in tears, convincing myself of my idiocy.

When I was 9 I wrote a letter explaining how worthless I was and that I would never succeed in life. That letter became a key part of me going to a Christian secondary school; my parents wanted to make sure that I went to a school which had the value of each individual as a core part of its ethos.

There was no dramatic event that started this. I grew up very loved, with supportive parents, caring siblings and a stable environment.

As a teenager my depression got worse. I was considered ‘bright but dark’ by most people at my school. I used to panic on my way to school, the anxiety would make me feel sick and I would go home. My teachers told me that it was ok, that things would improve when I took my A-levels, that success would follow because more challenging work would help my self esteem.

Sixth form (age 16-18) was, unfortunately, even worse. I was warned by the head of the college that I was at risk of being expelled because of my poor attendance. The modules that I enjoyed were fine, I got ‘A’s for those. The same was true for exams on days that I felt happier, but on days where I felt low I would get ‘D’s or ‘U’s (ungraded).

Finally I went to university. Whilst I was studying Philosophy in Manchester my best friend died. Emily was 19 when she finally succumbed to Leukaemia. The moment I heard I was torn apart. A week later I was informed that I had failed my first year of my BA because, despite getting very high marks for the work I submitted, I had not submitted 7 essays and thus could not pass the course. I repeated the year, took my Certificate of Higher Education and left.

My time at London School of Theology marked a huge change. Surrounded by friends, given a good routine and encouraged by the faculty I succeeded and graduated with an Upper Second Class degree. I was the student body Academic Representative and won an award for my contribution to the community. That’s not to say that it wasn’t hard. During my second year I had a recurring nightmare in which I was stabbed repeatedly in the neck. The anniversaries of Emily’s death and her birthday were a huge challenge. Some days I didn’t get out of bed at all. Yet there has most definitely been an upward curve.

People often tell me that depression is only a temporary thing, it stems from an event and will pass if you do the right things. So far the temporary thing has lasted approximately 20 years and counting. I can’t pinpoint where it could have come from. As for doing the right things: I eat well, have corrected my sleeping habits, I go to the gym about 3 times a week. I still struggle though.

Some days are good, some are not. Through prayer, good habits and the support of those around me the good days are starting to outnumber the bad.

My hope in sharing is that those who read this who, like me, suffer from depression will know that to share is not weakness. Please be encouraged that you are not alone, not in how you feel, nor when you come to deal with it.

My project in my final year at LST was a 10,000 word piece on Ecclesiastes. I did not do as well on it as I had hoped when my marks came back, but the opportunity to wrestle with the themes of the text and with my own experiences was invaluable. My closing paragraph of the piece said this:

‘Life is, as it was and shall always be, fleeting, a mere whisper of a beautiful secret that if clasped too tightly will slip away. Those who strive after it may as well chase the wind (1:14), yet for those who seek a full life, in partnership with another (4:9-10, 9:7-9) or in the fullness of one’s heart (11:9) life might be found. As Krüger writes: ‘In view of death and the uncertainties of life, wisdom leads people to seize possibilities for pleasure and enjoyment in the present, as well as opportunities to act’1 Thus we conclude here, then, as Fox begins, a reading of the work of Qohelet in which ‘he maintains a faith in God’s rule and fundamental justness, and he looks for ways to create a meaningful life in a world where so much is senseless.’2 For, in spite of all of that which may come to pass and that will pass away, ‘life is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun’ (11:7).

Fox, Michael V., The JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastesקהלת, Philadelphia:The Jewish Publication     Society, 2004.

Krüger, Thomas, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible: Qoheleth, Minneapolis:     Augsburg Fortress, 2004.