Shifting Men’s Mental Health Awareness

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close

According to a survey carried out by Priory in 2018, 40 per cent of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health. This is not great news when 77 per cent of the 1000 men surveyed have suffered with mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression. However, the very fact that 77 per cent of those men recognised they have or have had a mental health concern is actually good news. Why? Because it highlights an important change in attitude.

Shifting Stigmas

Back in 2003, the Movember movement was launched, turning the month of November into 30 days in which “your moustache turns you into a walking, talking billboard for men’s health.” Founded by a couple of Australians – a nation perceived to be full of stereotypical men’s men – the drive behind the campaign was the need to get men talking, not only about physical conditions such as prostate cancer but also mental health issues such as depression. At the time, suicide rates in Australia were three times higher in men compared to women.

By 2013, the Movember movement had grown from 30 moustaches grown on home turf to over 5 million across the globe, but, perhaps most importantly, it had raised awareness of men’s health issues and given everyone a means of starting a conversation about them – and those conversations can save lives.

“Since the Office of National Statistics (UK) began recording suicide deaths in 1981, more men have died than women. And while every female death to suicide is a tragedy and should be mourned, female suicide rates have halved while male suicide rates have barely budged.” – Poorna Bell

It’s Good to Talk

There’s an old expression, “A problem shared is a problem halved,” and these are wise words in relation to mental health. Statistics show that women are much more likely to discuss their problems with others than men, and a 2016 Mental Health Foundation survey found that only 25 per cent of men with health issues would talk to a family member or friend about them within the first month, with over 33 per cent “hiding” the issue for more than two years or choosing never to talk to anyone about them.

So, why do men find it so difficult to talk? The answer is undoubtedly connected to old-fashioned gender stereotypes and the outdated “stiff upper lip” culture of men in the UK. Poorna Bell’s husband committed suicide in 2015. Before his death, he said: “We’re expected to man up, suffer in silence and just get on with it. How did that ever work for our fathers’ generation?”

Manning Up

Things are changing, but old stigmas can be tough to shift. Hearing the words “man up” certainly do not help men to be more open about their worries and the way they’re feeling. Hollywood action heroes continue to “show no weakness” and glossy magazines continue to tout the message that being the “strong and silent type” makes a man attractive. Where does all of this leave the “average man” when the pressures of life are building?

In 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain, of these 75% were males. Suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50.

Every Mind Matters

In recent years, Prince William and Prince Harry have been talking openly about their own mental health challenges. This has led to a degree of criticism, with some stating that it “shows weakness” and damages the image of the royal family. Of course, for others, it’s seen as a hugely positive step towards lifting the stigma surrounding mental health issues for good. In fact, many would argue that far from being weak, the decision to speak out makes William and Harry the brave ones.

In interviews, William has said that when he approached celebrities and famous faces about joining his Heads Together initiative in 2016, very few were willing to get involved. He says, “What was very interesting from when we set up the campaign was that not one celebrity wanted to join us. Not one person wanted to be involved in the mental health campaign, Heads Together.” By 2019, his Heads Up campaign had footballers, actors, politicians, and sportsmen not only supporting the initiative, but choosing to be open about their own experiences. The tide is showing sure signs of turning.

“Everyone knows that feeling when life gets on top of us. We feel stressed, low, anxious or have trouble sleeping. We think there is nothing to be done, nothing we can do about it.” – Princes William and Harry

There is Something to be Done

We all have a mental health status, just as we have a physical health status, but while we’ll happily talk about our physical aches and pains with anyone at any time, we’re unlikely to mention any mental worries. Mental health affects every one of us, women and men, so it’s important that we all keep talking and allow the changing tide to shift the stigma once and for all.

“Speed of Sound Sound of Mind” is the inspiration story of resilience and courage with a message for all out there struggling with or close to someone with mental health challenges.

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