We need to talk about men’s health, now.
When icons such as Chris Hemsworth, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Wilkinson open up about struggles with mental health (and all have done in this very title), it’s powerful stuff. It inspires more men to talk. Yet, it still feels like we’ve got a way to go.
While things are seemingly getting better (in 2017, 4,382 men took their own lives in the UK, the lowest rate since 1981), the fact remains that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. According to the Samaritans, every day an average of 12 men in the UK take their own life, while research from Priory says 77 per cent of men polled have suffered with anxiety, stress or depression.
Kit Harington recently checked into a wellness clinic citing personal problems, and if a beloved star of a hit show (Game of Thrones) is acknowledging he needs help, perhaps more of us need to take action. Diver Tom Daley struggled with anxiety and even PTSD off the back of a disappointing 2012 Olympics, and believes it’s our very essence holding us back.
“Talk about it!” Tom says. “The plain and simple thing is to not be British about it.”
Perhaps it’s small wonder it was an American, his husband Lance Black, who opened Tom’s eyes to meditation and mindfulness.
“Say, ‘I’m going to ask if he’s OK. I’m going to ask how he’s doing.’ Being able to talk about our feelings and emotions and talking when things aren’t OK… some British people think they don’t need help, but we need to talk. When you talk and get things off your chest, you get perspective.”
Jim Cummings, star, writer, producer and director of Thunder Road, a beautiful indie movie that explores mental health, echoes Tom’s thoughts.
“Talk about it and ask about it. Men are rarely asked how they’re feeling and it often helps to just have someone to hear your thoughts.”
Comedian Rich Wilson feels so strongly about male mental health that he launched a podcast: Insane In The Men Brain. While Rich feels positive steps are being taken, he calls for patience.
“It’s only been in very recent years that men have been actively encouraged to open up about how they’re feeling. We’ve had years of being told to ‘man up’ and ‘don’t cry because only girls cry’, and it’s going to take a few more years to repair the damage. Progress is being made, but these things always take time. Plus, you have many men who don’t see why they should change… They see manliness as being everything, but that usually stems from some insecurity somewhere or another.
“We need to show these men that you can still be manly and do manly things while at the same time saying to your mate in the van on your way to the building site that you’re really struggling to keep things together at home or that you’re feeling depressed or suicidal and you don’t know why.”
Cummings agrees once more. “It’s evolutionary. Men still feel like they’re the guardians of the cave and if they fall apart, the family unit will fall apart, too. A lot of men I speak to about depression say they feel shame and are inadequate by addressing their problems. All of it stems from generations of playground fights encouraging emotional callousness that doesn’t sync with a healthy life or relationship with our fellows.”
We also need to tread carefully. #MeToo is obviously a very important movement and has unearthed horrific crimes. But some are getting hurt in the crossfire. Wilson says, “There also seem to be a lot of anti-men conversations going on. Rightly so, in some ways, because of the few among us who have behaved horrifically towards women. But a lot of men are getting shut down if they dare say ‘but it’s not all men’.
“Instead of shouting insults and blame at each other, men and women need to come together, to work to understand each other better and stand strong against the men, and a certain percentage of women, who are ruining this beautiful thing we call life.
“I know it sounds hippy dippy and maybe a little naïve, but wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could just work
things out together?”