Mental illness among men is a topic that needs more attention – there’s a dangerous stigma surrounding men’s mental health, which makes it harder for them to seek help. Worrying statistics from the World Health Organization show that more men die by suicide worldwide, with men making up 70% of suicide deaths in Malaysia. Although more women are diagnosed with depression, the root cause of this public health problem is the patriarchal attitudes ingrained within our culture – men are discouraged from showing emotions and start to fear being seen as ‘weak’. Society still holds strongly to these masculine ideals and norms, placing the pressure on men to be providers.
Growing up in the collectivist culture of Malaysia didn’t stop content creator, Ryan Matjeraie, from valuing his individualism. The half-Iban, half-Irish personality never found himself basing his self-worth on financial success, and instead chased creative pursuits from being in a rock band, and hosting a successful radio show, to now writing and producing for comedic talents such as Harry Kok Siew Yok and Harvinth Skin. When filming was halted during the MCO, Ryan started feeling anxious and made the decision to try therapy – we talked to him about his experience.
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What were your thoughts about therapy before you started going?
I’m not gonna lie, I had a pretty naive misconception of it! I mean, even growing up, the word ‘therapy’ drew negative connotations because of its misrepresentation. I couldn’t help but to associate it as a place for the weak-minded and people with severe mental problems – and as condescending as that sounds, I genuinely thought I was above that (at the time!). Of course, now in hindsight, I can look back and roll my eyes at that misguided outlook, but it’s discouraging to know that there’s a fairly large population of people who still think that way.
When did you first acknowledge your mental health?
I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but probably when I began hearing/seeing other people tell their personal stories about mental health and their struggles of coping with it. It was a pretty powerful moment of realisation at the time because it didn’t just destigmatise mental health, it completely disentangled it for me – I remember thinking, “Holy sh*t, I go through that too!”, “Wait, that’s exactly how I feel!” and “Oh wow, I can completely relate to that”. It normalised mental health in my head, making it a little less daunting, a little more clearer and (probably most important of all), I didn’t feel quite as alone anymore.
What made you change your mind about therapy?
When I realised how big of a role it can play in staying happy and healthy. I mean, a lot of us tend to prioritise our physical well-being over our mental uncertainty, without realising how fundamentally-linked both are in improving our quality of life. Don’t get me wrong, going to the gym everyday is a great flex, but if we glorified the idea of feeling mentally healthy just as much, we’d come leaps and bounds.
Do you remember how you felt before your first session?
I do! I was curious, uncertain and probably a little impatient to just get started to be honest. Undoubtedly, there’s always going to be a little bit of scepticism that plays out in the back of your mind as well, but I remember feeling cautiously optimistic at the time and that this was what I needed.
How did it feel opening up like that – was it your first time? Did you find yourself downplaying things?
It was mentally exhausting. I mean, talking about yourself for extended periods can get pretty tiring for anyone – but retracing through moments in your life and describing them in ways you haven’t done before to a stranger can take quite a toll. If I was to use an analogy to describe it, it would be like going through your closet and stumbling across old clothes, new clothes, clothes you forgot you had and then trying to decide which ones to let go of.
What misconceptions did you have about therapy that changed after your first session?
Honestly, I actually still can’t seem to shake off one misconception about therapy since I first began. And that’s the idea that a therapist will provide me with the quick answers I need to be able to fix and improve aspects of my life. But in reality, there’s just no way we can expect a therapist to help us make decisions about our own lives, in fact we already have the answers – a therapist just helps guide and empower us to find them on our own accord.
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What positive changes do you think we’d be able to see as a society if mental health services were made more accessible?
I mean, it could do literally everything from drastically reducing suicide numbers to optimising people’s happiness in large numbers. No doubt we’ve taken strides, but as a society I still feel like we’re far off from realising the implications mental health has to our general well-being. My sister, Risna, fell victim to suicide in 1992, at a time where mental health services probably weren’t as accessible or at least even talked about in great length. And the idea of her having that access to mental health services or even the knowledge/awareness that she wasn’t alone in what she was going through, could literally have saved her.
How do you think we can help break the mental health stigma that affects men?
A lot of men, generally speaking, associate mental health to be something extreme like psychophobia or a personality disorder – without realising that it can be born out of just regular anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health disorder at the end of the day, and a lot of men experience it.
To anyone who is now more interested in their mental health, where do you suggest they start?
As cliche as it sounds, talking to someone genuinely helps. Especially if you’re someone like me, who overthinks. There’s a lot going on up there that we need to unpack and if you just take a moment to pick yourself apart and realise your pros and your cons, you can now be privy to making decisions and taking turns on this road of life.
Mental Health Resources
The Mind Faculty
A private mental health clinic offering a wide-range of psychiatric, psychological, counselling and complementary therapies.
Contact Number: 03 6203 0359 / 03 6203 0733
A not-for-profit organisation providing emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to people who are lonely, in distress, in despair, and having suicidal thoughts – without charge.
Hotline Number: 03 7956 8145
The Malaysian Mental Health Association
A non-profit voluntary organisation established to promote mental health awareness and public mental well-being.
Contact Number: 03 2780 6803
Women’s Aid Organization
Provides free and confidential services to survivors of domestic violence, rape and other forms of violence.
Hotline Number: 03 7956 3488