A recent radio programme featuring the loss of the steel plants in Teeside and the resultant redundancies brought home how badly men, in particula, are affected by redundancy and the hopelessness of trying to find new work once they reach fifty plus.
A moving story from a wife whose husband fell into a deep depression, triggering an increase in drinking and smoking and a steep decline in his health, took me back to a time when my first husband lost his business. Pulling up the walls of denial, he continued to go to his empty office and sit amongst the detritus of unpaid bills, lost orders and computers thick with dust, he became a phantom figure in the block of offices.
When he came home at the end of his so-called working day, he was angry and abusive and talked about a conspiracy to destroy him. Realising that his depression had taken on a new dimension, I tried to get him to seek medical help. The problem with paranoia, once it gets a hold, is that anybody who wants to help, doctors included, become co-conspirators in the plot. This went on for years. Money was tight as the family relied on my income and secret debts were uncovered yet he continued to deny and blame and rage. I didn’t want to divorce him – who walks away from someone in desperate need? – but I had to save myself and the children.
It’s a myth to think men don’t feel the pain and grief of loss whether it’s from the death of a parent, child or employment. Women are lucky to have empathy and sympathy from a wide circle of friends and we can talk about it… endlessly if necessary. We can openly cry, scream, rage and down copious amounts of wine in the safety of our networks because maybe we don’t feel the same need to be visibly resilient.
Men who can find a healthy release from their grief have the chance to recover more quickly and find a new path but the silent majority suffer in silence and it can kill them.
My ex-husband returned to his family who in turn turned their verbal daggers against me. ‘This wouldn’t have happened if you’d been a proper wife,’ was the regular assault in the early days yet they’d failed to tell me he’d suffered bouts of depression in the past. Sadly he didn’t pick himself up enough to create a new life. Stories of men turning their faces to the wall in shame or self-hatred after losing a job or a business are not uncommon and I’ve seen some die well before their time because of little support and limited external services to help them cope.
Not everyone can take their redundancy payoff and set up a business so they can say, ‘Redundancy was the best thing that happened to me,’ as they celebrate making their first big sale. If you only know about steel or coal mining then it’s unrealistic you can suddenly turn your hand to bar work or cake-making. Some do, of course, but on vastly reduced wages and hours and against fierce competition from younger workers.
We need to increase the mental health support for anyone who finds themselves unemployed and that should include help for their desperate families. Depression can manifest in abuse and who knows how far that can go?