Book promoting mental health dialogue among men

A new book hopes to do its part to open the conversation around men and mental health.

MENtal Health: It’s Time to Talk; written by Allan Kehler, tells the true stories of prairie men—including Chris Beaudry, former assistant coach of the Humboldt Broncos—“who have persevered through various issues of mental health. Together, they put a voice to topics including masculinity, mental illness, addiction, and suicide,” details the author’s website at www.outfromtheshadows.ca

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But, why did Kehler think a book looking at mental health and men was worth writing?

“Many men spend their entire lives hiding their feelings, learning from the action - or rather, inaction - of their fathers, mentors, and friends that when it comes to mental health, vulnerability equals weakness,” he said. “Statistics show that men are far less likely to ask for help than women - and too many men are suffering in silence because of this deeply-rooted societal stigma.

“The perception of what a ‘man’ looks like and how he is supposed to act has existed for generations. Human programming surrounding the idea of masculinity influences boys. Boys were training to be men, and men were supposed to be physically strong, ruthlessly competitive, confident, and stoic at all times.

“Boys weren’t often taught how to recognize and talk about their feelings; they were taught to ‘be a man’ and suppress their emotions. Anger, on the other hand, seemed to be a perfectly acceptable emotion for a man to feel, as the act of expressing aggression was more in line with the ‘tough guy’ mentality.

“Kids are always watching. If we can’t talk about this stuff why would they?”

Kehler said he found as he began to gather stories for the book there were commonalties in what he was hearing.

“There was a common theme in the interviews,” he said. “Men were afraid of judgement, perception of being weak, their reputation, or worse, sympathy. One of the men, Eric Harder, said he felt like hands would push him away. However, it was the complete opposite. People welcomed him with open arms. In other words, what men thought would happen did not, and many were left scratching their head wondering why they suffered in silence for so long.”

For Kehler the latest book, he has authored four previous ones, is a deeply personal one, at least in terms of motivation to write it. He said he wanted the book to send a message that people “are not alone in our struggles, and secondly, we were not meant to fight our battles alone.”

It goes deeper for Kehler.

“My own struggles with mental illness began at the age of 14, and intensified at 17,” he said. “I was given numerous labels over the next few years along with various pharmaceuticals. Throughout this time the world was always my stage. While I smiled on the outside I was in pain on the inside. So I know what it feels to suffer in silence.

“But, I also know what it feels like to be vulnerable, put a voice to my pain and be free from it.

“As a kid I did not choose to struggle with mental illness or addiction, and in the same way I did not choose to become a motivational speaker. However, I believe that our voice is our greatest tool and I wanted to help others find their voice.”

Over the years Kehler met others who faced the same challenges which added inspiration in terms of doing the book.

“I have met a lot of men who had been carrying their pain for too long,” he said. “I began to wonder, ‘Why does it have to get so bad before we as men ask for help? Why do some of the headlines read ‘Women Seek Help. Men Die’?”

“It was my hopes that through a book like this, I could answer these questions. I have always believed that there is nothing more powerful than someone’s story so I decided that this was the best approach to take.”

But being a subject men have often avoided meant Kehler had to get them talking to share their stories. He said it was a challenge to write someone else’s story.

“After interviewing these men I had to transcribe our conversation, but then I thought, ‘Who am I to edit someone’s story?’ It was also important for me to do justice to their story,” he said.

“The most difficult interview was Ed Andres, the father of my best friend Justin Andres. Justin died by suicide, but I knew that Ed had so much value and insight to offer as a father having lost his son. While it was painful for both of us, it was also rewarding and felt good to speak openly about such a significant loss.

“My wife, Tanya, was the one who made the book make sense. She spent countless hours editing and providing strong structure and layout.”

The stories were all emotionally difficult, but crucial to create the book Kehler hoped too.

“This book was bigger than me since the beginning and it took on a life of its own,” he said. “I put a call out for proposals, but knew many of these men personally and reached out to them. Others, I found through social media or word of mouth.

“When I reached out to these men they were committed to this project before I even finished my pitch. There was absolutely no hesitation to put their name and face beside their story because they were done with hiding, and they wanted to use their stories to assist other men who remain in hiding. We all knew that we were creating something special, and I believe we did. From the idea to write this book to the actual book launch was only 11 months so it all came together with general ease.”

Overall the book was one that did not unfold easily, even with the co-operation of the men, because the stories were emotionally hard.

“Of the four books that I have written, this was hands down the most challenging,” said Kehler. “I have experienced themes of mental illness, suicide, addiction, and sexual abuse in my own life so it brought up my past and caused those old emotions to rush back. This significantly impacted my own mental health. My wife, Tanya, is my rock and greatest support. There was a time during the writing process where she said, ‘As a motivational speaker you are always encouraging people to put their own needs before others and to take care of themselves. It’s time to take your own advice’, so I did, I shelfed the book for a few weeks until I felt strong enough to continue.”

So what does the author think is the best aspect of the book?

“In my eyes, these men are heroes because they had the courage to talk about their own struggles,” said Kehler. “Michael Landsberg did the foreword and he said it perfectly. He said there is nothing contagious about mental illness, but there is something contagious when we share. It gives others permission to do the same. That is what we have done. Men need to see other men be vulnerable. They need reassurance that their reputation will not be shot.”

But, is Kehler satisfied with the overall story he created?

“I have always struggled with value, and while the other books were extremely successful, I had a difficult time feeling proud of any previous books,” he related.

“This was different. I truly believe that we created something that will change lives. I hope that this book gives other people permission to be vulnerable, put a voice to their pain, and reach out for help.”

As for an audience, Kehler hopes its men, in particular those men needing a little nudge to seek help.

“As men, we seem to struggle when it comes to putting a voice to our thoughts and emotions. Information is power,” he offered. “As former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk said in his testimonial, this book will help women to understand and support us better.

“The nice thing about a book is that it’s non-threatening. It can be gifted to a man, and he can read it in his own time in his own way. Because the book contains 16 different stories and various themes, it is inevitable that something will resonate.

“I also understood that women would likely be the ones to purchase this book more than men themselves. For that reason, we dedicated a chapter on how to support the men in your life. Two women also share their personal stories on this theme.

“I also believe that we can get this book into every school in Canada along with the interviews of the men that we recorded.”

In the end hopefully the book will help men move past the perception that they should not show emotion; that they must toughen up, and act like a man.

“It comes to mental health. The problem is that you can only stuff so much in before it is going to come out,” said Kehler. “Children were never taught the tools. If don’t have the tools you are really limited, and there is only so much that you can do.

“The best way to move past the perception is for other men to be vulnerable and give themselves permission to feel.

“Today, boys are being taught to feel, to cry, and to reach out for help in times of need. Boys are beginning to understand that asking for help is not a weakness but rather a strength. They are learning that it’s okay to not be okay. What’s not okay is to fight your battles in silence. There is nothing manly about suffering in silence. While the pressure to be strong still exists for boys, silence has never equalled strength.

“The men in this book are motivated to help boys and men recognize that they don’t need to conform to the old stereotypes of masculinity. They are motivated to represent a new and healthy form of masculinity, and demonstrate that real men can, and should, ask for help.

“These men understand that the conversation around men’s mental health won’t get better unless we make it better.”

Many men still feel as though they need to stuff their emotions deep inside to be strong. They feel the pressure to just ‘suck it up’ and keep going. It’s this very mindset that keeps many men silent.

“These men understand that the conversation around men’s mental health won’t get better unless we make it better.”

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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