John's courage proves that you can't keep a good man down
The hard shell of the Irish male is finally cracking. Men are starting to talk, and it's not just about sex, sport, beer, and work. The honest sharing by two respected public figures in the past week has added to the much needed momentum in getting us lads to talk openly about what's really going on beyond our often hardy exteriors.
Yesterday saw the return to the airwaves of popular RTE broadcaster John Murray who had been absent for the past six months. Murray kicked off his show with his usual humour and high jinx but didn't delay in explaining to listeners why he had been absent for so long.
"One minute I'm happily presenting this radio show and enjoying life, the next I'm ... gripped with anxiety with the simplest task proving beyond me," he said. "Depression doesn't just drop in for a quick hello and run for the hills. It took a fancy to me ... and boy did it make its presence felt."
He thanked all the people who had sent him cards, emails, and letters of support for "helping me get back here this morning" and urged anybody experiencing depression or anxiety to reach out and talk to somebody.
His open and frank confession follows the recently published blog by Cork hurler Conor Cusack, which burst through the outdated popular notion that real men don't cry.
His intimate and articulate blog was followed by media articles and appearances that were welcomed by a groundswell of relief that men are finally starting to admit all is not well in the world of the Irish male. Cusack tells of his years of depression, feelings of isolation and suicidal thoughts, and his continuing journey towards healing.
"I believe depression is a message from a part of your brain to tell you something in your life isn't right and you need to look at it. It forced me to stop and seek within for answers and that is where they are," he wrote.
He has since been inundated with messages of support and it seems he has helped invigorate a key national conversation.
After years of campaigning by mental health groups and, thanks to a growing men's movement, it's increasingly clear that men are starting to talk about their feelings, fears, suffering and frustrations. In a country where 80pc of suicides are men this is not insignificant. Men are in crisis.
Of course, many of us are doing well and are upbeat about the future but too many are not and hence the suicides, anxiety, depression and drinking.
Looking at the statistics in regard to domestic violence, street violence, rape and abuse, it's clear that something is profoundly wrong in male culture. Not convinced? Think about the dysfunction in the overwhelmingly male-dominated worlds of politics, religion, business and banking.
For generations, men have been focused on being the valiant warrior. Each day we set off hunting and battling, seeking to return to the nest with treasures and proud tales of conquest and glory. In the competitive jungle we keep our armour on, watch our backs, run on adrenaline, and maintain that everything is going mightily in our own personal kingdoms.
It's survival of the fittest with no room for weakness. It's a case of keep on pushing regardless of the obstacles in our way. It's the way of our fathers and their fathers before them.
Our women know this. They've been propping us up for years, holding the fort, listening to our woes, and feeling the consequences of men who have bottled things up for way too long. In an era of mass unemployment, where many warrior men have no war to go to, this is even more relevant.
The same is true for the successful man, the guy who looks like he has everything except the one thing that truly matters – inner peace.
Cusack and Murray are part of a new model of warriorship. They are skilled and intelligent, brave and courageous, but also vulnerable and sensitive. They are every bit as manly as the next guy and perhaps even more so given their honesty.
Solving the economic crisis is only part of the solution to our problems. Sure the markets need attention but so do our men, women and children. We need leadership that speaks the language of the heart, shows empathy and compassion, and doesn't shy away from the real suffering of the nation.
Thankfully that leadership is starting to emerge, not from the corridors of power but from men like Cusack and Murray.
Never be afraid to seek help. Talk to friends or family or call Samaritans on 1850 60 90 90 or email email@example.com.
Ruairi McKiernan is a member of the Council of State, an independent community change maker and founder of SpunOut.ie. His blog is www.community.ie.