I was privileged to be part of the State of Stigma event run by Time to Change Wales on 9 February 2017, which was a great experience and provided some very insightful information about the successes of the campaign to date. One of the themes centred on the role of men in addressing mental health stigma and discrimination.
Even in this modern age, there are still some roles in society that seem to gravitate towards one specific gender. That is not to say that there are not women who excel in male-dominated professions and vice versa; far from it, I am often inspired to see people rise above professional stereotypes and breaking down barriers that should not exist. But the reality is that some roles are still less likely to be driven by either men or women.
Lee took part in the 'Men and Mental Health' breakout session at Time to Change Wales' State of Stigma event earlier this month.
One such issue is the role of men championing mental health awareness.
The statistics tell a clear story about men involved in fighting mental health issues. The rate of suicide in Wales is higher amongst men than women yet men are less likely to access support and therapies. According to the Government’s national well-being survey, men report significantly lower life satisfaction, with those aged 45 to 59 reporting the lowest levels.
Yet with the suffering of people with mental health problems such an issue, is there more men can be doing to support each other?
In my personal experiences as someone who has suffered severe depression and other mental health issues since my teenage years, I have witnessed these issues firsthand. When I started looking for support, I found that women (doctors, counsellors, friends, family members) were generally more open and supportive of my problems. More importantly, there were more women in these roles ready to talk to me. Even the literature I had access to had more pictures of women than men on the covers.
There are many ways that men can be a source of support for other men. I have observed that one of the major blockers is often finding the right support to offer.
When I was at my lowest, the only other man I engaged with was my father and this can often be a difficult role for fathers. Many boys grow up admiring their Daddies so it can be hard to open up especially when you do not want to feel like you are disappointing or letting him down. In some cases, fathers would rather provide physical health support; he does not mind bandaging your knee if you fall off your bike but will he talk with you the first time your heart is broken by a failed relationship?
Another form of male support is our role models. When we are young, we will follow examples set by our favourite sports stars or artists. Even men in positions of power and influence can unknowingly be well placed to offer support to other men going through these challenges. If more talked with honesty about their battle with mental health issues, would the men who look up to them realise that it is okay to talk about it?
"We enjoy the banter down the pub or the camaraderie with the football team but do any of them really talk about their feelings?"
Sometimes for men, the most difficult people to support are our direct peers. We enjoy the banter down the pub or the camaraderie with the football team but do any of them really talk about their feelings? Where there is competition amongst males in particular, it is hard to show anything we consider a weakness or an opportunity for exploitation.
These barriers can be difficult to break down yet men can still play many important roles supporting each other through periods of poor mental health. I have watched men who support the Time to Change Wales campaign give inspirational accounts of their personal battles. I have taken on the role of Mental Health Champion within my workplace, allowing me to demonstrate to my colleagues the importance of tackling discrimination and stigma in our working lives. I have even taken time to just talk with my family, friends and colleagues, the simplest action which can have the biggest impact.
There are many other roles that men can play – father, mentor, coach, godparent, teacher, partner – which put us in a unique position to help others with poor mental health. Listening is a universal skill. I really do applaud our male Champions but if more men take up these roles and opportunities, maybe there will be less suffering in the long term.