Today is World Health Day and, recognising the modern epidemic of invisible illness, the Powers That Be have thrown a spotlight on depression.
The 30-year-old charity worker from Cardiff told UNILAD that he was first diagnosed with depression six years ago, feeling ‘alone and tired of constantly battling my demons and putting on a brave face.’
Recalling his lowest moment, Aaron said:
Just after Christmas…I was tired of feeling I was a drain on people. I wanted to end my life which ended in me having a breakdown.
[It was] a feeling of nowhere to turn. Feeling lonely and sad is a tough place but it’s even tougher when you are afraid to ask for help and have to put on a brave face day in and day out.
Aaron’s anxiety also peaked and he realised he needed an out from the downward spiral of late night drinking and withdrawn hangovers.
Sadly, it’s a continuous cycle that is familiar to many young people.
Since his diagnosis, Aaron says he has ‘finally learned to embrace my depression and am no longer embarrassed or ashamed of it.’
Aaron told UNILAD about his progress:
I have been able to come off medication and I see my GP once a month to keep in touch. I am now able to find the strength to make a phone call or send a text if I am feeling down, whereas before I would isolate myself and cut off from people.
I now do as much reading as I can to learn of new coping strategies and how to deal with negative thoughts. I keep myself physically fit… Spending time with friends and family and having their support makes a huge difference.
Aaron understands the pressures of battling depression everyday and has reached out to his fellow men to open up about invisible illness.
Aaron, who works for Action For Children, has founded the aptly-named Brotectors in his endeavour to help others. Put simply, it is a website designed to inspire men to reach out to others for help, advice and support.
In his own words, ‘Brotectors was made to show people that they are not alone; there are people in the same boat going through the same situation’ – and Aaron himself has found the cause a source of focus.
Brotectors, Aaron says, is an alternative to the drab advice sites on offer elsewhere.
I felt nothing inspired me to reach out for help at low times; the NHS websites were very generic and black and white and I found I could not relate to any of the information.
It read as though it had been written by someone who had probably not experienced the thoughts and feelings I was going through; who was probably not even the same age as me or with similar interests.
Aaron believes men should feel comfortable to discuss invisible illnesses, and claims ‘The stigma attached to men’s mental health needs to change’.
I think men can be quite embarrassed or ashamed as they think it’s a sign of weakness. I have been told to ‘Man up’ or asked ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’
I think men tend not to talk about their feelings for fear they will be viewed differently… Weak and not an alpha male.
He also dismisses the societal stereotypes of those with mental illnesses, saying:
I think people tend to think of someone suffering with a mental health illness to be someone tied up in a straight jacket at a hospital who has to take hundreds of tablets everyday.
When people break a bone in their body or have the flu, they seek out medical and professional help.
Aaron believes, ‘It should be the same for any mental illness’, just like depression, which he dubs ‘a chemical imbalance in the brain.’
Those tides of stigma may be turning, however, and Aaron has been amazed by the support for Brotectors.
He shared a message with those involved, to date, which you can watch below:
The outpouring of support goes to show just how universal mental health is as an illness.
Aaron understands that ‘anyone can be affected by mental health’, regardless of the way you look, what you do or who you are – and he hopes to offer support without judgement.
The organisation has been championed by many groups, such as Welsh rugby teams and Cardiff University, who have shared photographs with the hashtag ‘We Got This’.
Sharing advice he’s picked up along his journey, Aaron said, ‘Take control of your depression and don’t let depression take control of you! And, remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.’
Brotectors hopes to be a friendly face in a myriad of forums about male mental health and its founder hopes his story can ‘inspire other men to get the support they need.’
If you are affected by any of the issues highlighted by Aaron’s story, you can contact Samaritans for free on: 116 123.