With a goal to change the conversation and save lives, one St. John’s man reaches out to those who suffer in silence
Bill Jeffery is many things. From devoted father and husband to dedicated counselor right down to being a passionate singer/songwriter, Jeffery has multiple balls in the air. Now he has found a way to merge two of those worlds through his song, The Lonely Man, and the project that accompanies it.
“I wanted to use my passion for music to raise awareness of men’s mental health and the impact it has on men, their spouses and families. Men are known for being the strong, silent type, and that’s been to their detriment,” he says.
Every five in one
While the national suicide ratio is 3:1 male to female, we have a number closer to 5:1 here in this province, and programs are lacking, he adds passionately.
“I always tell people, this is a ‘we’ problem, not a ‘he’ problem, as the whole family unit is impacted when men do not seek help for mental health issues. Families pick up the pieces of male suicide.”
Jeffery thought a little outside the box and came up with something he hopes can help.
“I started The Lonely Man Project and did a crowd-funding project to get people involved and to raise the money to record the song in Nashville. The song, The Lonely Man, was recently released and is available on all the streaming platforms and on YouTube along with a video. This song speaks for the strong, silent type, men who find themselves unable to tell the story themselves. As I always say, when it comes to men’s mental health #WeAllKnowAGuy.”
The response has been incredible, he shares.
“We have had a tremendous response to both the song and the video, which was given a sneak peak on NTV when I was on with Toni-Marie to discuss it. She has been so very supportive and was actually the first person to reach out to us when we started the project. The song had over 16,000 views in just two days.”
Jeffery, who has a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, says traditional methods of reaching out to those who need help hasn’t been working for a variety of reasons.
“I took a step back and said, OK, how else can I attack the problem? What else can I do? In my counseling practice, the very common story that I hear from a lot of guys is how we’ve been socialized growing up to be strong and dominant. You don’t cry, you repress your feelings.”
What does it look like?
Talking to women, he realized something else. “Women don’t know what male depression looks like. They were dealing with their husbands and sons and nobody had told them that anger is a hallmark of male depression. So we’re bringing our boys up a certain way, to be men that don’t talk who don’t have the tools to really express themselves, combined with the lack of knowledge that this is what depression in men actually looks like.”
Men, as a result, are falling through the cracks, he adds. “It’s been causing a lot of trouble for the men in the province, as well as the families and their partners and wives that are trying to get them out to get help.”
Some signs to be on the look out for? “There is anger, irritability. When you think of traditional depression, you think of people staying away socially, but a lot of times depressed men actually create conflict. That’s their way of reaching out. They act out.”
You notice someone demonstrating road rage, or going crazy in a parking lot? You might think, what a jerk, instead of seeing it for what it might be instead: depression.
“There’s always that tipping point, but expressing yourself through anger and creating conflict is a sign of depression. We’ve never really associated anger with depression because that’s not what men have been told or taught as a gender in our culture.”
When you are told depression looks a particular way, if you don’t match that, it has to be something else. So recognizing what that looks like in your partner and then recognizing it in yourself and accepting it, that’s a big piece of this, he counsels.
“Families in the province are breaking up and a lot of this is manageable and preventable if we put the targeted programs or services in place to reach the men that we need to reach.”
That’s where The Lonely Man project and song comes in, he says, because the first piece is awareness.
‘‘We’re trying to let people know what’s going on. Let people know what the suicide rate is. Let people know that depression is different in men. Let people know that the socialization that we’ve experienced growing up, that all the scripts that we were given are wrong and that a lot of men are now a product of that. They don’t talk. They hide their feelings and they don’t express any emotion. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel.”
While reaching men is important, so is reaching out to those who love them.
“Men are really becoming vulnerable in our society. They are turning to drinking or drugs to cope in other ways.”
But women can help. “Women can help men to connect. They can shine light on what’s happening, and that can help men through a difficult time. Then, we need to put some programs and services in place to change how we’re socialized, as boys, so as they come up in the world we can try and eradicate some of this problem.”
Getting a project of such magnitude off the ground has been challenging, but he’s had help. “Up Sky Down Films and filmmaker Roger Maunder helped with the video. That’s an important piece for getting the word out,” he says.
For those who suffer
Help can’t come too early for those who suffer, he says. “The shame and the stigma is real. And so is the guilt that comes along with all of this. Depression isn’t a comfortable conversation. Men’s mental health is an uncomfortable conversation.”
Is there light at the end of the proverbial tunnel? “The conversation is slowly changing, but there’s still so much work to be done.” Jeffery hope The Lonely Man is a catalyst for change.
“The Lonely Man project is trying to raise awareness and normalize having a conversation about men’s mental health. If you’re a man and you need help, we need you to speak out, get help, because the further down the road you go, the harder it is to bring you back. So the whole idea of what we want to do is make it preventable and get out of crisis mode.”
Reaching out, and telling men it’s ‘normal’ to talk, is key.
“There’s this macho attitude. Men won’t talk to their wives. They won’t talk to friends. Men, growing up, have been taught to be competitive and dominant. You’ve got to win. Many men isolate themselves, busy with work and home-life. So now suddenly you’re not going to be competitive? You are going to open up and feel weak? And so-called social media is probably going to turn out to be one of the most isolating tools that we have, because it’s anything but social.”
Jeffery hopes he’s helping to change much of that. “Have those conversations. We’re so good at masking what’s going on and smiling and laughing, but inside? That’s what The Lonely Man song is about. Let’s change that and create opportunities for interventions so that we can create a different result.
“I just want the guys to reach out. I want them to know that they’re not alone, that there’s a lot of men in this province and across the country feeling exactly like they do. You’re not the only one feeling like you’re feeling right now, you just don’t know it yet.”
His last important message is this: “Just reach out. Hang in there. There’s always hope. On the other side of this, life is beautiful.” For more visit lonelyman.ca