1 Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Yann W. Tanoé Author I am the founder of SunBird Enterprises. I am an Activist for Human Empowerment, Emancipation and Rehabilitation. My actions have focused mainly on quality of education, child mental health and the emancipation of African youth through microfinance and entrepreneurship.
I recognised very early on a lack of awareness about mental health in our Afro communities and about how they were viewed as taboo. I therefore decided about nine years ago to create an educational programme to address these issues… that is how OYOMIFAI ‘The I am happy Project’ was born. I am now looking to target this issue in a new dimension with men of African descent like me.
2 How would you describe male depression?
Male depression has been (until recent years) one of the most underrated issues in all societies in my opinion. It has been an issue for centuries but it was never acknowledged as a problem that needed addressing.
A number of our societies having been or being patriarchal in nature, it is therefore a gargantuan problem that some men can go through depressions undiagnosed. I say this because unfortunately in our traditional capacities as heads of households and breadwinners, it can be problematic…as the effects of this ‘mental illness’ will permeate every aspects of our lives that we are responsible for; our marriages, our families, our jobs, our societies and any place of influence that we may be at.
3 In what ways does depression manifest in men?
Every man is different, we come in all sorts of emotional shapes, shades and sizes, some of us are indeed expressive, others are proactive and others are introverts. I believe that the way depression manifests itself in a man is dependant on his experience of manhood as a whole, however, in my opinion, there definitely exists common signs.
. All energy and focus going on work
. Becoming a recluse, finding excuses to not be present.
. Finding other distractions
. Downtime is not really downtime – but just wanting to be constantly engaged in other things.
. Not wanting to address important issues.
Have you ever experienced any form of mental illness in the past or currently? If yes, please elaborate.
My greatest mental health was my ‘great depression’ as I call it which lasted from 2008 – 2011 it was a time when I was finally ready to cope with the sexual abuse that I had been subjected to as a child growing up in Africa. Interestingly, those years were my most creative. I was able to connect to my creativity and turn my pain into words. Many diaries were born at that time.
It may be controversial but many see depression as ‘the heart of darkness’ but I came to understand it as ‘the heart of light’. I believe that re framing the way in which we view depression or mental illness can be our cure from it. It was my own thought process that set me free from it. Let me offer this view point:
I came to understand depression as a normal emotional cycle that all humans must go through periodically. I see is it as a despondent state, one where we disconnect from life in order to explore the other emotional realities that occur around us.
I see depression as a longing for another realm/ another dimension – something almost spiritual. A dimension that borrows us for a moment and returns us when we have learnt what we are supposed to learn from it. Yes, I see depression as a teacher. A teacher that is meant to help us solidify our character, our presence and self awareness in this life.
4 Are there any mental health support group or organisation in the UK that you could suggest?
In the UK, I have heard of Mind and the Mental Health Society which are big organisations. Aside from that, I know that private counselings is another good place to start. However, the first thing is to be open to options. No healing can occur without acknowledging and being open.
That being said, it is my personal viewpoint that depression is a spiritual ailment and being spiritual in nature, it needs to be dealt with, with spiritual tools such as meditation, mindfulness and other practices that enable us to connect with ourselves on a deeper level. Medical treatments, in my opinion, are just a mere band aid.
It may make one feel good for a given period of time (and that is fine if that works for you). However, I am writing from a place of empowerment. As a meditation teacher, my aim is to help self actualise and not create additional dependencies, in my opinion, we have too many of these in our current society.
5 How can family or friends offer support to men with depression?
Again let me stress that everyone is different but I believe that the people who are around a man who is suffering from depression need to work alongside him and not ‘against him’ or even attempt to think for them.
That is very important. Allow space where necessary but show that you are aware and that you are there. It is a time when many men will not want to talk. No we are not all trained to deal with depression but at the end of the day it is about showing that we are aware of the struggle, being extremely patient and loving during that time.
If you could advice young men with depression or any other form of mental illness, what would you say?
The advice I would give is: You are not alien, you are not abnormal, you are not alone. Nothing lasts forever.
Be honest with yourselves at this moment about what you want for yourself and for your life. What is stopping you from getting there? Try to identify your triggers but also what you need to shift in your lives to be in a better place.
Every depression has a trigger, a lesson to learn and something to shift. You just have to plunge deep inside and find that answer for yourself. If you already know what it is that you need to shift, then summon the courage to take action.
If you can’t do it by yourself or don’t know how to start then have the courage to ask for help. At times the people around can see past ‘the fog’ and see clearer than us. You are not alone. Never, ever forget that.