The Depressed Men of Status Symbol Land
Posted on February 10, 2015
When it became apparent last week that former footballer, PFA chairman and TV pundit, Clark Carlisle, had stepped out front of a lorry in a suicide attempt, it came as little surprise because rumours had been circulating about his mental health for some time.
What I found more startling is that the biggest killer in men under 50, is suicide. There were over 4,000 suicides last year, outdoing cancer, coronary disease and accidents on the road or in the workplace. 12 men kill themselves every day in the UK.
That’s a bit of a shocker isn’t it? Thankfully, at 47, I am emerging from the highest risk age group which is apparently between the age of 40 and 44. By no coincidence, this is when men are coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer the top dog in professional sport or getting increasingly marginalised in their corporate careers.
Depression is a still a bit of a no go area in my immediate peer group conversations and whilst you see all sorts of campaigns for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and heart disease as well as annual stop smoking and stop drinking months, you never see men growing moustaches in support of depression or a widespread campaign for ‘Don’t Hanguary’ as it is still an illness that is seen as a weakness.
Depression is the Biggest Killer of Men Under 50
As I have got older, I have found it easier to recognise anxiety or depression in men and I now understand far more about my friends who I always used to assume were just a bit too negative sometimes and should, actually, just bloody well snap out of it and cheer up.
To begin to understand depression, you have to realise that it has no particular logic and can spring itself on anyone. However, there are some pretty obvious lifestyle choices that lead to it. I know this because I experienced what was diagnosed as mild depression and anxiety for about six months when I was in my late 20’s.
I had loads to look forward to at the time, having just become a husband and father and setting up a new business. However, out of nowhere, I felt listless, tired and completely fed up with life in general. As a bonus I was beset with 2-3 panic attacks a day. It was a hideous experience, I can tell you that for free.
As this period of my life drifted from weeks into months, I have to say it was getting to the point where if I saw a lorry or a bus, I often fantasised about driving in to it rather than endure another day of panic attacks. Thankfully, some sort of logic kept me on the right side of madness and I never really felt like doing something quite so selfish.
Then, one night, at my lowest point, I went out with an old work colleague who was addicted to cocaine and I blasted a load of the marching powder up my nose, supplemented by outrageous amounts of alcohol and a whole night without sleep before I eventually flaked out.
That was the last time I ever had an anxiety attack or took drugs. It was as if though a night of total debauchery had blown all my anxiety cells out of my system. It was an extraordinary cure, though perhaps not one I would necessarily recommend, as of course, it may have just been a coincidence or an example of how complex the chemical balance is from one brain to the next.
Not long after that pivotal evening, I spoke to a psychologist in a loose social conversation and I realised that what I had been doing was blotting out all the fears of parenthood and running a small business with booze and the booze was a depressant that exaggerated anxiety.
There could have been all number of other reasons for the illness but no-one knows their own body like oneself and after re-starting football, playing a bit of golf and cutting down on the booze, thankfully, everything starting becoming normal again through lifestyle changes.
I never did stop drinking totally because I liked it too much, especially socially, but now I only drink when I am happy and reduce it dramatically if there are issues in my business or private life. This is because I know the spiral of negativity it can lead to and it does no-one any favours. I don’t do hangovers well, so I as a consequence, I am rarely seen incoherent with booze.
So, whilst depression can attack anyone, personally, I see lifestyle choice as a huge factor and it would now seem pretty apparent that in your 40’s, it is more likely to strike if you have been caught up in aggressive consumerism and have become addicted to status, the size of your house, make of car, what school your kids go to, or how great they are at sport or academia.
Some men are forever chasing something and whether it be a Rolex watch, kids at private school or a wanky personalised number plate, they are leading themselves down a winding path where they neglect their kids and other loved ones and ultimately, when they no longer have the physical or mental strength to keep striving for more one-upmanship, they see a terrifying vacuum.
Anthony Clare who wrote the book Masculinity in Crisis, said that men need to put “a greater value on love, family and personal relationships and less on power, possessions and achievement… to find meaning and fulfilment”.
It took me until my early forties to work that one out fully, but I always suspected that was the case when I perpetually felt deflated after buying something expensive like a new car. It was like getting the last sticker in a Panini World Cup football sticker book as a child; rapture followed by an instant feeling of deflation and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Sadly, some men don’t work it all out until they have been put out to grass by a ruthless employer or suddenly find themselves, as a professional sportsman at the tender age of 35, someone who is ‘yesterday’s chip paper’ in a ruthless world where competitive sport is no longer for fun, but a money making blue chip business where there is no place for failures.
However, men can’t solve their issues all alone and it has to be said in some areas of the ultra-needy sad cases that make up the wannabe middle-class, women are demanding things all the time from their man. I have met women who demand that their partner is sensual, emotionally in touch and more caring on one hand and an aggressive go getter on the other…or else!
It is a bit like having the ability to cry at a crap Richard Curtis movie one day, then ruthlessly stabbing someone in the back to secure a mega bucks IT contract the next.
Men are drawn to these types of women as they may have once been perceived as being the best looking girl in a big glass building constructed on foundations made of corporate bullshit, but the demands they pile on to the man often reach a point where they are just intolerable, both financially and mentally.
So rather than lose face, and possibly his partner, he kills himself. Nice.
I see it all the time where I work at a cricket centre bar. Men and women in business suits coming into the bar just in time for the start of their kid’s game, thinking they are impressing everyone by being stressed up and bemoaning their hectic lives as they tap away on their laptop’s and iPhones.
One bloke came in the other week, slammed down all his hi-Tec devices on the bar and as loud as anyone could hear, and said “What a day…WHAT A DAY!”
It is safe to say that this was supposed to be an open question but the only answer I could think of, was “What a wanker…WHAT A WANKER!” so I just ignored his request for attention, which was far more pleasurable than you might think.
The question is…was he always a wanker, or was he trained to be one in a big glass building?
These types then transfer their ego on to their children, who are equally stressed at being put on a pedestal of potential greatness courtesy of their selfless parents being high achievers, despite the fact they barely recognise their own kids.
I have even seen one man video his child playing cricket on his iPad before forcing the poor boy to watch it back whilst his dad dissected his faults and admonished him publicly for letting his father down and not appreciating the opportunities he has been given…the poor little sod had frown lines at the age of thirteen.
God knows where that child will end up…In a clinic somewhere I expect.
If people want to see the root cause to an upsurge in anxiety and suicide in men, they need to look no further than an addiction that is not something obvious like smoking, drinking or gambling, as dangerous as they all are of course.
The root cause is uber-capitalism, an illness spawned during 1980’s deregulation, where the addict ends up, more often than not because of its vicious dog eat dog nature, either a lonely, charmless and friendless narcissist, or standing on the edge of Beachy Head as his demanding wife dines out on the credit card of Todd from the office, who is allegedly in touch with his emotional side and loves a good chick flick…at least until he tempts her to a local hotel room.
Without sounding like a right-on evangelist, it is my belief that the key to curtailing suicide and depression in men, is to cull expectation and ask people to understand what actually causes happiness and how it is maintained. It’s not unrealistic consumerism that’s for sure, one look at the seething anger on the faces of the Black Friday lunatics last Christmas confirmed that.
Doing community things, helping the sick or elderly, being good to loved ones, giving fun and laughter and rising above envy or bitterness towards others comes for free and it is remarkably liberating…in fact so liberating you end up pitying the nutters who spend their day in a permanent state of angst.
It took me some serious errors of judgement before walking away from all that crap and all the stress that goes with it, but I know now that when I meet my maker, it won’t because I have deliberately walked in front of a bus, though with a history of being prone to comical calamity and clumsiness, I can’t guarantee it wont happen by accident.
That is because I now know the simple things that make me feel good, like actually getting my willow cricket bat to connect with a piece of red leather, walking by a river, writing for fun or for pocket money, or putting on a pair of socks just seconds after they come off the radiator.
Success and money doesn’t have to end in misery. Many people are bright and humble enough learn to appreciate it and share it and I have seen that first hand with wealthy people I know who have done well but keep it quiet and just get on with enjoying their lives rather than marching into a bar and saying “What a day…WHAT A DAY!”
However, when perceived wealth becomes the be all and end all under a tidal wave of loans, credit cards and huge mortgages, resulting in the loss of a place in status symbol land, the tragic consequences are there for all to see. I bet 10 out of the 12 who commit suicide every day, have had their perceived middle class status taken way.
As for the Panini World Cup Sticker book, I still remember the last sticker. It was Eric Gerets of Belgium.