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Mental Health

Unpacking Men’s Mental Health at Queen’s with Jake Bradshaw

In honour of men’s health awareness month, I decided to sit down with fourth year PPE student Jake Bradshaw to hear about his mental health journey at Queen’s. Jake has been a mental health advocate on campus ever since enduring his own battle with depression. He has been the co – lead of Jack.Org, a guest speaker on many panels and a driving force for creating positive change at Queens. In this article, he shares his personal experience with mental illness and gives us insight into the often-stigmatized topic of men’s mental health.

**Disclaimer: all answers below are paraphrased versions of the responses, interpreted by the writer

 

Q: When did you first start experiencing signs of mental illness? How did this progress?

“I had experienced different times of sadness throughout my life, but the first time I felt something was really wrong was the summer after high school. I felt unreasonably sad for someone who had just graduated, it felt as if I had experienced a traumatic event. I think I felt like this for two reasons; one being that I was leaving behind a great life in high school, the other came from uncertainty for the future ahead. I had no idea what university was going to be like, and I had this looming idea that my life was just going downhill. That July, I went to go see my first therapist, where I was officially diagnosed with depression. However, as first year approached, I found myself getting more optimistic and excited for school.”

The first six weeks of school I was having the best time, I loved it here. I was making lots of friends and really enjoyed my classes. In that six-week period, I thought that I was cured and all feelings from the summer were gone. However, this was unrealistic – midway through October the sadness started to creep in and I didn’t really know why. I started to blame it on a lot of different things in my life, but I couldn’t attribute the sadness to anything in particular. I tried different things to take my mind off of it. I joined extra-curricular activities, was frequently exercising and tried to stay busy but nothing was working. These negative feelings continued into second year, and I felt it getting worse. This is when I saw my first therapist in Kingston, and it really helped me. We started doing CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy), and I learned that the thoughts in my head weren’t real. Using these tools, I made it through first year and things seemed more optimistic. 

At the beginning of second year, things took a turn for the worse. All the tools I had learned from first year weren’t working – I felt anxious and sad all the time. I knew I had to see my therapist in Kingston, and after seeing me for two appointments he recommended I take some time off – so I did. I took the rest of the semester off, and ended up coming back permanently in the second semester of second year.” 

 

Q: Did you feel additional barriers in seeking help due to your gender?

    “I can definitely see how there is a negative perception with masculinity and mental health. There is an added component of difficulty when it comes to being a guy and talking about emotions. It makes some conversations harder to start initially, especially mental health conversations. I think men in general don’t really like being vulnerable, but at the same time I don’t know anyone who does. For me personally, I never really felt a barrier. I was really lucky to grow up surrounded by people in my life who encouraged me to speak openly. My parents were always supportive of me, and I kept the line of communication with them open. I also had a supportive group of friends who constantly checked in on me and made sure I was doing okay. In first year, I told a few people what was going on, but not many. However, when I took the semester off I decided to tell everyone I was struggling. Whenever I told someone what I was going through, regardless of whether if it was a girl or a guy, it was well received and I felt really supported.”

 

Q: How has involving yourself in mental health advocacy helped with your journey? 

“The first time I really started advocating or speaking really publicly about what I was going through was when I wrote my article during my semester off. At that point, a lot of my close friends knew, but this was a way of telling my broader friend group at Queens. It really helped me because it was a way of letting people know what was happening without having to explain myself. Joining jack.org was also really great for me. For me, helping others was fulfilling and rewarding, and turned my struggle into something positive. It was also helpful to be surrounded with people who were so passionate about mental health, but also struggled themselves. That being said, advocacy can be draining, or even feel like a burden. You need to focus on taking care of yourself before others, I became an advocate when I felt ready to.”  

 

Q: What advice would you give to a male first year right now? 

“It is really important to remember that there is no one perfect ‘roadmap’ to university or mental health. By this I mean to not feel ashamed or embarrassed about anything you are going through, you have to do what works for you. What works for someone else might not be the right solution for you, so never give up trying to receive help. Secondly, never be afraid to speak up and be vulnerable. By allowing yourself to open up to friends, not only will you help yourself, but you can also help the person you are talking to. Finally, you have to try and surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with, and that means more than people you go out with. I was really lucky that the group of people I surrounded myself with at Queen’s were there for me unconditionally, and I always knew I could go to them with anything.”

 

 

 

Megan Farrell

Queen's U '21

Third year student at Queen's studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. You can always catch me doing one of three things: eating pickles, obsessing (a little too much) over bachelor drama, or actively learning the single ladies dance routine.
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