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Tackling the stigma around men's mental health issues

OPENING UP: Recent statistics indicate that an increasing number of men are struggling with mental health issues

IT SEEMS as though increasing numbers of men are struggling with mental health issues.

According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), just over three out of every four suicides (78 per cent) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 50.

ONS statistics also reveal that 12.5 per cent of men in the UK are suffering from a common mental health disorder, such as depression.

Other figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre found that men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent when facing mental health challenges than women.

Given the fact that men are notoriously poor at opening up about their health it’s likely that if increasing numbers of men are struggling with mental health challenges, more are also not talking about it.

In fact, according to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women.

The organisation said that only 36 per cent of referrals to it are men.

Although this doesn’t apply to all men, so many avoid talking about what’s going on inside their minds out of fear of being judged or ignored – or told to ‘man up’.

The idea that a strong and silent attitude is attractive is reinforced by the “show no weakness” mentality of popular film and TV characters.

TABOO

Often there is little room in these characters’ storylines to portray poor mental health and how it can be positively dealt with.

Furthermore, famous, wealthy, successful or powerful men are not always ready to admit their struggles in public. All of this can leave the average man feeling uncertain about how to deal with their mental health issue or who to turn to.

But it seems that attitudes are changing. What was once a taboo topic has received more mainstream media coverage partly because celebrities have been willing to share the struggles they have experienced and how they have tried to deal with them.

In particular, there are black male celebrities who have been an important part of this trend.


PICTURED: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

Former pro wrestler and Hollywood actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, below left, said on a 2015 episode of Oprah’s Master Class that he dealt with depression after being cut from a Canadian football team and living in his parent’s basement.

Johnson said: “I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realise is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it; you’re not going to be the last to go through it.”

He continued: “I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s gonna be okay. It’ll be okay.’ So I wish I knew that.”


PICTURED: rapper Kid Cudi

Chart-topping rapper Kid Cudi is another black male celebrity who has spoken about his struggle to achieve good mental health.

The Day ’n’ Nite hit-maker declared in an open letter that he had struggled with suicidal urges but was determined to seek help.

“I was in a really bad place, and at the time, I felt like I was letting a lot of people down,” said the rapper. “It was really hard for me to even write that letter, but I needed to be honest with the kids. I needed to. I couldn’t live a lie. I couldn’t pretend to be happy.”

Now he says making music, raising his daughter and spending time with family has heightened his happiness.

“I’m the best I’ve ever been in my life,” he reveals. “I realised I was genuinely happy, and there’s nothing really going on in particular. Just being 34, to be still doing what I love. Taking care of my responsibilities, and my daughter’s good and my family’s good. Creating is making me happy again.”

His mentor Kanye West has also revealed details about his own mental health journey, although he doesn’t see the need for therapy.

“I use the world as my therapy – as my therapist,” he has said, adding that he prefers to talk with friends and family. “I will pull them into the conversation of what I’m feeling at that point and get their perspective.”

One by one, more men in the public eye – such as footballers, politicians and actors – are coming forward and openly addressing the issue.

Despite the perception among millions of old-school men who believe in stoicism and silent suffering and that talking about mental health is a weakness, these celebrities have been praised as courageous and lauded for starting a much-needed dialogue.

This month, October 10 marks World Mental Health Day.

Campaigners hope that the event will prompt more public discussion about how men deal with mental health issues. Every year, one adult in four, and one child in 10, will face a mental health issue.

Organisers of the day say that this can profoundly affect literally millions of lives, affecting the capability of these individuals to make it through the day, to sustain relationships, and to maintain work.

They also say that people of all backgrounds can play a role in helping to promote good mental health.

There are a number of initiatives that are aimed at making a difference. One of those is Mind Reposition, launched by former Premier League footballer and boxer Leon McKenzie.


FIGHTER: Leon McKenzie has used his status as a sportsman to launch an initiative which hopes to fight depression

The father-of-five, who does not take medication to manage his mental health, is determined to use his lived experience of depression to help others. And it seems as though he’s well on his way to doing so.

Speaking to The Voice earlier this year, at the launch of his initiative, he said: “This is the start of something special... a lot of people [have walked] away today saying thank you. I’ve achieved a lot but when people are saying to me that I’ve saved their life just from me speaking, that beats any goal, any fight I’ve had in my life.”

McKenzie’s family have been supportive of him throughout his journey and he shared one of the ways he believes anyone can help someone who is struggling.

“Listening is the most important thing anyone can do and, obviously, be there for that particular person.

“I think listening is the key to just being there for someone. Even if you don’t know what to say – we don’t have all the answers – I didn’t have all the answers tonight but I’m trying. It’s all about trying, about finding that process to try. And I believe if everyone tries, we’ll all be in a better position.”

The event brought together prominent UK mental health charities and advocates The Thrive Programme, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and Natasha Devon, campaigner, writer and former department for education mental health champion for schools. Each mental health expert stunned the audience with stark facts on the numbers affected by mental health conditions – women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK – but they also left them hopeful about the work that is being done to improve lives.

SADNESS

Other campaigners are using the arts to get a conversation going about how men deal with mental health issues, and February saw the launch of a hard-hitting play which explores three generations of male anger.

Revealed, the first production from the new Menologues platform, founded by The Red Earth Collective, was written with the goal of encouraging black men to speak out about their mental wellbeing and showing that seeking mental health support is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

The play was inspired by the disturbing fact that suicide rates are at their highest for 35 years.

Sandra Griffiths, director of The Red Earth Collective and producer of Menologues, said: “In African and Caribbean communities, expressing feelings of sadness and pain is often seen as a weakness. It doesn’t help that the discourse about black men and their mental health centres on the severe end, such as schizophrenia.

“Menologues explores why it is so hard for many black men to explore their feelings and to talk about depression. I hope that Revealed will encourage black men to open up and seek the help that they need.”

Written by criminologist and author Dr Martin Glynn and Rites of Passage Productions co-founder Daniel Anderson, the 60-minute production explores three black men from the same family: Malcolm, a restaurant owner, his son Luther and Malcolm’s father Sidney, who are locked in a room while a violent protest at yet another death in custody rages on the streets. What follows is an edgy unravelling of emotions, where three generations of anger are revealed.

Dr Martin Glynn, co-writer of Revealed, said: “Brazilian Augusto Boal encouraged critical thought about oppressive social conditions and developed the ‘theatre of the oppressed’ where he believed that oppressed people could transform their lives through theatre.

“By creating a safe space to observe and engage with complex issues, using creative means such as Menologues and Revealed, is as effective as traditional forms of sharing ideas such as workshops, seminars and conferences.”

Daniel Anderson, who cowrote and stars in Revealed, added: “Writing Revealed gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey as a black man who has battled with bouts of depression.

“The main inspiration was the need to uncover the things black men feel, but don’t say. The stigma that comes with mental health can be challenged using creativity. I hope the play encourages black men, and those in their lives, to step out of their comfort zones and take action.”

It’s good to talk about it

If you are experiencing mental health issues here are some things you can try:
• Think about why you find it uncomfortable to ask for help and whether this is preventing you from getting the help you need
• Get as much information as you can about mental health services in your area. Also research support groups that work with men
• Search out stories and case studies. The experience of other men may help you better understand what you are going through
• Talk to someone you trust like a friend or family member. Counselling may also help

In the UK, the Samaritans can be reached on 116 123, the Professional Footballers' Association member helpline on 07500 000 777, Childline (for people under 19) on 0800 1111 and NHS out of hours 111

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