THE BLOG

When Just a Quarter of Males Believe It Is Okay to Show Emotion, We Have a Serious Problem

04/11/2015 08:08 GMT | Updated 03/11/2016 09:12 GMT

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HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

I'll never forget taking a tumble down a flight of stairs at my primary school when I was seven years old.

It wasn't a bad fall and I've had worse accidents for sure but I remember this one clearly because it was the first time I felt ashamed to cry in public.

Consequently, I hobbled to the nearest toilets, into a cubicle, and stayed there sobbing for a short time.

As a boy, I was extremely sensitive and frequently cried. But as I grew older I began to take heed of a song my Mum used to play, 10cc's hit I'm Not in Love, which contained the hauntingly whispered lyrics:

"Be quiet, big boys don't cry."

Twenty years on, during the summer of last year, I was on the London underground reading the book A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner. It tells the true story of how golden retriever Henry transforms the troubled life of a child called Dale who is diagnosed with autism. I won't give too much away but there is a very moving section toward the end of the book where the reader would be best advised to have a box of Kleenex to hand.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes and rolling down my cheeks as I sat on this early morning Central Line train which was packed with commuters.

As soon as I started crying I stopped reading, hung my head and didn't lift it again until I got up to leave the train.

Now as I'm writing this I must confess that I have a lump in my throat once more. Not because of these past incidents but in the knowledge that I am only one of countless men too afraid to show such vulnerability.

This isn't to say that women don't share the same fear, of course they do. But research has shown that men find it much more difficult to openly express how they feel.

In a poll by Cosmopolitan, only 27% of males surveyed said it was acceptable for them to get emotional at any time, whilst 71% said it was unacceptable to cry in public.

We have a serious problem in our society when just over a quarter of males believe it is ok for them to show emotion.

Perhaps this is why only 28% who seek treatment for depression and 78% of those who take their own lives in this country are men. (Men's Health Forum)

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the male suicide rate is rising and at its highest for nearly 15 years, whilst the female suicide rate has stayed relatively constant and consistently lower.

Just last week Professor Green highlighted what is the biggest killer of men under 45 through his brave and powerful BBC Three documentary, Suicide and Me.

We have to keep this conversation going. Every single day we lose 12 men to suicide.

We must also start to redefine what it means to be "macho" and stop telling males to "man up and get on with it". We would never tell females to "woman up."

Through my work as an ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness and subsequently after the Channel 4 documentary The Stranger on the Bridge was aired, I have had many frank and open conversations in public with individuals about their mental health. The majority of these have been women.

Most of the men I do speak to are through my YouTube vlogs and many of them say they are unable to talk face to face about their issues with anyone. I have been in such a place and I know how isolating and agonising it can be. This time last year in fact I had a relapse in my own mental health and ended up in hospital. I waited months to open up to those around me about what was happening.

Last month I finally told a doctor that I've lost my libido. It's taken me four years of fear and embarrassment to talk about it, yet this is another huge issue and a taboo for so many. According to the NHS, one in five men suffer this problem. Recently I wrote about it and was amazed and comforted by how many men contacted me to share how losing their libido had affected their lives too.

We need men to start fighting each other's corner. There's been a number of high-profile, successful campaigns around female empowerment such as #GirlsCan and #LikeAGirl. Where are the campaigns that empower males to talk about and show their vulnerability? This week the male suicide prevention charity CALM have joined forces with Lynx to launch their new #BiggerIssues campaign. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the fact that we fill our conversations with anything and everything but the taboo of suicide, in spite of the fact that it claims the life of a man every two hours in this country.

Results of a survey released to launch the campaign reveal that 42% of men have considered killing themselves. 41% of them never spoke to anyone about it. We may not be able to help stop them from considering suicide, but we can help stop them before getting to the next stage by encouraging and supporting men to talk. Most of all, we need to show them #itgetsbrighter and that really it is possible to overcome any adversity in life.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) can provide help or support on 0808 802 5858 if you're in London, or on 0800 58 58 58 if you're outside London. Lines are open between 5pm and midnight, seven days a week. Find out more about their current campaign #BiggerIssues at biggerissues.co.uk

Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place to talk for anyone who is struggling to cope. Please call 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill) email jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch

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