“You wanna man up” — has there ever been a phrase more appropriate for the discussion around men’s mental health and the breaking of the subsequent stigma attached to it?

Why surely, it’s one of the most empowering, macho, pressure-filled statements you can make to someone isn’t it? It’s a decisive, determined and intentional wake-up call, a slap back to reality and a reminder that everyone has something going on, so we just had get on with things and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s as alpha, old-school and unequivocally primal as you’ll get. It’s also a stark reminder that the measure of a man, and of human beings in general, is not entirely in their apparent or perceived strength, but rather by how they respond to adversity when the chips are down. 

For me, needing to “man up” isn’t about cracking on, pushing the razor blade musings of a depressed or anxiety-ridden mind to the side and smiling blissfully, even if internally you’re screaming and wanting to crumble to pieces. For me, needing to “man up” is about the acknowledgement that life is tough, it’s ok not to be ok 24/7 and that you can share your experiences, good or bad, with the people around you and more over, that it’s perfectly acceptable to be a male who has mental health issues and who “isn’t right”.

Lockdown has been a paradigm shifting experience for us all. The fabric of our everyday has been mercilessly ripped to shreds and the “new normal” quite obviously. For those of us with mental health issues, it has undoubtedly been challenging and we have sadly lost people along the way. 

The focus was put on mental health right at the start of the pandemic, with people calling for recognition of the impending plight of those who were most likely classed as vulnerable. Amongst them were those within the mental health community. We were asked to check in and be kind, encourage engagement and promote interaction at a time when people had never been so alone and heartbreakingly distanced from other humans. We saw fantastic pledges by a variety of individuals and groups across real life and through the veil of social media, pledges to raise awareness and continue to support mental health — championing the cause from the outset. 

I know the lockdown has been difficult for my own mental health but I have also come to the realisation that it is a huge part of who I am and that I want contribute, support and encourage the active awareness of mental health in my local and wider communities. God knows, I’ve had hard days and I mean really hard days. However, for all the times where I couldn’t see an end in sight to the world due to Covid, I felt sorry for myself because my engagement party was cancelled and my summer memories were suddenly, agonisingly, taken from me before even being created. The times where I saw people get behind doing 25 push ups a day for 30 days to get people talking, the times where people reached out over the virtual landscape to check in on friends or family members if they could see something was up and not quite right and the emergence of a newly educated, less dismissive crowd of people who were open to lend help and support. 

For me personally, the stigma has improved dramatically. I feel more able and open to talk about my mental health and the mental health of others with people who I wouldn’t have considered as amongst the “trusted few” and the support and words of genuine encouragement I’ve received from previous articles, tweets and fundraising efforts over the last few months has been invigorating and sustaining on a personal level. But that doesn’t mean that the stigma is gone or that it’s time to let up.

My advice to all men, not just throughout Men’s Health Month, but for every month is this: feel safe in talking. 

If you’re feeling low or overwhelmed, step back a moment. Take everything into account and think “what’s making me feel this way and where can I go or who can I call on for support?”. We have to normalise men reaching out for help and disarm ourselves of the stereotype that men are all stoic, emotionless leaders of the pack. After all, heavy is the head that wears the crown. De-stigmatise the notion that it’s weak or unnecessary to acknowledge mental and emotional feelings if you’re a man and promote the courage and bravery it can take to finally admit openly that something is wrong. Be the progressive, modern day man that you’ve heard all about. Take off the suit of armour, take off the Rambo headband and lay it all on the table.

Maybe by doing this we are essentially owning up and being more manly and exhibiting the qualities we are told we should be championing anyway. Bravery, courage and meeting adversity head-on. Maybe that’s what we should take “man up” to really mean. Maybe it’s the men who are already tackling mental health who should be telling those refusing to do so through sheer ignorance or naivety to practice what they preach...and “man up”.

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