It started out as a way to turn his terrible experiences into something positive for others. In the wake of a suicide attempt that followed months of unrelenting depression, twenty-two year old Joshua R. Beharry was determined to extend his recovery efforts. He wanted to assist others going through the same things. He could never have anticipated that five years later, it would lead him to work on an online project funded by Movember to help other men dealing with depression.
Initially, Josh joined a public speaking group. There was a small group of young adults involved, and he gave talks at Douglas College and UBC. “Seeing the reaction from people through public speaking was probably one of my biggest motivations to reach out to people online” says Josh. “It proved to me that this is worth going ahead with and doing because a lot of people who are dealing with this don’t talk about it, and they just need someone to take that first step to open up a conversation.”
Going public with his story wasn’t without some worry. His family and close friends were very supportive, but Josh had never disclosed his experiences of depression and surviving a suicide attempt to his larger social circle. He also had to weigh the potential repercussions with future employers who might discriminate against an employee who was recovering from mental illness. “I decided at some point that I would stop looking at this as a weakness and look at it as a strength, something that I’ve overcome, taken control of, am speaking out about, and really own the topic,” Josh explains.
Visit HeadsUpGuys.org, a website managed by Josh that provides strategies for men dealing with depression.
One of the early findings from our work is that the interventions are having a powerful impact on the people involved even at the initial stages of development. The process itself is therapeutic. Josh wrote op-eds for the Vancouver Sun and the UBC’s student newspaper. Maclean’s magazine interviewed him for their On Campus section. Eventually, Josh decided to launch his own website. But it was difficult to know how much of an impact his efforts were having and if they were really helping other guys who were struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. Thus, he was excited by the opportunity to join a new national research team, the Men’s Depression & Suicide Network, that was funded by Movember in December 2013.
“Once I joined the project and started looking at mental illness through the lens of ‘male’ depression, I started to realize how a lot of things that we were talking about had affected me,” shares Josh. “Like not wanting to ask for help or not wanting to look weak and trying to figure out things on my own.”
The project team is working to build an online resource that provides men with information and strategies to manage and prevent depression. It highlights how early symptoms of depression can be different for men with signs like anger, impulsiveness, irritability, aggression, substance overuse, risk taking, and over-involvement in work, sports and other interests. It also explores how physical changes to energy levels, sleep, and appetite are just as likely to accompany depression as cognitive and emotional changes.
Josh can’t help but imagine what it might have meant for him to have this information earlier.“When I was really depressed, I could barely do anything. I was comparing myself to when I wasn’t depressed and getting more and more down. If I had had a better understanding that this is a super serious illness that is affecting me in all these ways, I might not have had the expectation that I should be able to do what I could normally do.”
The website provides information and strategies for men, and their friends and families, with cues for when professional assistance is needed. The team is finding a balance between detailed health information and descriptions of men’s first-hand experiences of managing depression. For example, when discussing tips for sleep, the content is organized by the most common problems that men experience when they are depressed: Not being able to fall asleep, not being able stay asleep, and not being able to get out of bed. “If we can reach men before they’re more severely depressed, then they can know what’s in store, and what their options are ahead of time,” adds Josh. “After my suicide attempt in January 2010, I dropped out of all my classes. I’ve been slowly building back up. It has been amazing working in an environment where I don’t have to worry about what people will think of me because we’re actually working on mental health, and we’re trying to help men who have experiences like me.”
The goal of making a tangible difference in men’s lives compels everyone on the team. For Josh, working to help guys like him has been another step in his recovery. In the process of launching more resources for men, Movember’s support for men’s mental health is already being felt by the men developing these resources. “It’s great that Movember is taking a lead because they are well-known and respected, so if they’re willing to talk about men’s mental health, then it goes a long way in opening much needed conversations.”