Josh Rivedal lost his father and grandfather to suicide and is a passionate advocate for improving men’s mental health.
—This is article #86 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Men are willing to talk about just about anything—the size of their prostate glands, or how much Viagra they’re allowed to take—but they’re still not willing to talk about their mental health. If men want to live long, healthy and productive lives it’s absolutely crucial that the dialogue surrounding men’s mental health has to change.
I lost my father Douglas to suicide in 2009. Douglas lost his father Haakon to suicide in 1966. Each suffered from undiagnosed mental health conditions and each suffered in silence because of the stigma surrounding men talking about and getting help for mental illness.
Haakon—a Norwegian man who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—killed himself in 1966 because of the overwhelming post traumatic stress he suffered because of the war. Douglas, an American man who was chronically unhappy and abusive, may have been clinically depressed for a very long time, but my mother filing for divorce was a catalyst (not the cause) for his action in taking his own life.
There’s a relatively new case study in The Journal of Men’s Health that says that men are affected tremendously by divorce. They have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and detach themselves from personal relationships and social support.
I nearly attempted suicide
In 2011, I had several catalysts for my own near-suicide attempt: the dissolution of a relationship with a long-term girlfriend (similar to a divorce), a lack of work, and fallout from my mother’s betrayal. I was in terrible emotional pain and unknowingly suffering from clinical depression.
My thought life took a downward spiral pretty fast. How did I get to such a dismal place in my life so quickly, just a month shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of secondary school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I would have it all together. After a couple of years singing on Broadway (yes, I’m a theatre geek), I would have scored a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioned seamlessly from having my own television show, A-Team 2.0 as Mr. T’s long lost son, to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. After which, my getaway home in the South of France would be featured in Homes & Gardens, andmy face would grace the cover of The National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.
But instead, I somehow only managed to perform in an assortment of small professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show; and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father killed himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.
Talking doesn’t make you less of a man
This perfectly imperfect storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions—to the extent that I was hanging out of a fourth story window.
Those men who came before me, Haakon and Douglas; each of them suffered their pain in silence too, because of stigma and I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through.
Standing at the ledge of a fourth floor window, I realized I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to end my inner torment and emotional pain. And I needed to break the familial cycle. So I came back inside, took a risk and asked for help by calling my mother.
Over the next few months I continued to take more risks. I called old friends to tell them I needed their support. I started seeing a counselor. And no one ever told me I was crazy, stupid or a bad person. They told me they loved me and wanted to help me.
There is always hope
While recovering from clinical depression, I wanted to help youth and other men like me. So I wrote a biographical book and one-man play The Gospel According to Josh that talks in part about my father’s suicide and took it to secondary schools, universities and community centers all across the U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia. With it, I talk about the importance of mental health and various means and methods of suicide prevention. Most of my audiences were and still continue to be women. One of the things I’ve found is that most men (not just the Rivedal men) have a difficult time talking about and getting help for their mental health or if they’re feeling suicidal. There seems to be some societal pressure that says, “You’re not a true man if you don’t have it all together, all the time.”
But I have a message for men everywhere that’s simple yet profound. There’s always hope and help out there for you. As a man who has suffered from deep, dark depression—the “Black Dog” as Winston Churchill called it—I can say from personal experience that this is not a character flaw or a weakness. It doesn’t make you any less of a man. In fact, by asking for help it makes you a stronger man. It gives you a fighting chance to improve your life and become the person you want to be. Reach out to your family and friends and ask for help. Nip it in the bud before it can turn into a crisis.
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Additionally, for International Men’s Day on November 19, 2014, I’m having a live Google Hangout chat on male depression, suicide, and how and where to get help with MensLine Australia in Australia (details HERE), and MenBeyond50 in the United Kingdom (details HERE). We’ll be covering a lot and you can ask questions and it’s totally free.
–-Picture credit: Britt Reints
Josh Rivedal is a New York City based actor, author, playwright, and international public speaker on mental health and suicide prevention. He writes occasionally for the Huffington Post. He is author of the book The Gospel According to Josh and is taking in part in an online discussion about men’s mental health on international men’s Day (Wednesday 19th November 2014).
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.