March 9th, 2020

The more we talk, the more cracks we put in the wall of stigma

Matt Skinner on how he uses Movember to start new conversations and continue old ones.
Men's Health | Mental Health | In the Barber Chair
1 MIN READ
 

Thirty years has passed since the last time I saw my dad but I remember it as if it was yesterday. As with most of my Saturday nights as a 13-year-old, I was sitting in my basement watching a movie. My parents had been away for a few days, so my dad came down to see me when they got home. He mentioned that he was running to the office for a bit and wanted to say goodnight. I barely took my eyes off the TV as I said “ok, see you in the morning.” I didn’t.

My dad was the greatest! He was an avid sailor, a passionate outdoorsman, an effective/engaging professor, a jokester, and a man of many other talents. However, he also suffered, silently, for many years with depression. He lacked the tools or the strength to start that first critical conversation, tragically taking his own life at the age of 47. Obviously, there is no guarantee that any amount of conversations alone would have saved my dad. However, I firmly believe starting the first conversation could have at least started him down a better path.       

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Matt skinner and his father, james skinner 
 

I still miss my best friend. Matt and I grew up in the same small town, lived next door to each other and, later, attended the same college. Talking was never our problem. It didn’t matter if we were separated by 3,000 miles or 3 miles. We talked regularly. The problem was we didn’t use the right words. Matt ignored the signs and hid his depression and alcoholism for many years. He was unwilling to ask for help and completely unable to win the battle by himself. When the truth came out, it was too late.  

 
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matt jenkins
 

I may not have been best friends with Todd McGovern, but three years together at boarding school creates a special bond, and he is the person who taught me what it means to fight. 

In 2004, he was given only 6 months to live. He chose to fight the cancer in his body instead of giving up. With the help and support of his wife Amanda, he used words and actions to inspire so many people for the next 8 years of his life. To this day, I tell people Todd’s story and try to follow his example.    

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todd McGovern
 

Unfortunately, my stories are not unique. All the tragedies in my life have taught me one thing, men need to talk more and use the right words. We can’t be afraid to ask questions. We need to take charge of our health. As men we must start to support each other and together we can make lasting change. I try to get my friends and family to understand that Movember isn’t just 30 days of taking care of our health, it’s a starting line to changing it forever.  The only way to prevent this tragedy from happening to our friends and family is through conversation.

The first one is the hardest, but it gets easier the more we practice. The more we talk, the more cracks we put in the wall of stigma that blocks men, boys, and everyone from talking about our mental health and physical health. I’m asking everyone check in with someone, or a few people. Maybe you’ll you have a simple conversation about sports, beer or work. Perhaps, it will be that first conversation for which someone has long been waiting. A seed gets planted, and someone struggling can finally see a way out. We may not solve many problems with a single conversation, but we surely can't find any solutions if we aren’t talking to each other.

It is important to remember, people struggle all year round, so talking cannot just happen for one day or one month. I use Movember to start new conversations and continue old ones.