There was a headline recently that said, 'Suicide: There's a serious problem with Britain's girls.' and it reminded me of another, 'The trouble with Men.' Both are equally disastrous. Both assert responsibility of the deaths on the befallen. Folks, suicide is not a space in which to victim blame. What we need to be doing is not look at deaths by suicide as a zero sum probability. There are many reasons as to why people die by suicide, rarely is it 'just because'. So these headlines are not helpful. In fact, they are actually quite harmful and the messaging, and a contributing factor to overall stigma.
I've been working in men's health, mental health and suicide prevention, for quite a while now and there is a tendency to try and 'fix and change' people (particularly men) to be 'better versions of themselves'. All in the spirit of healthier lives, etc., etc. This type of reprogramming, or behavioural change interventions do not work. Because if we believe that there is 'the trouble with men', then we are going to try and 'fix' men, and it's a deficit approach. We need to be encompassing an assets development philosophy, something that is strengths based. Because, and I am sure I am not alone here, I am sick and tired of the conversation that goes around and around and around that 'men don't talk'. Bollocks. The actual problem that men, who want to talk, have, is that people don't listen to what we are saying because they aren't listening in the same language, verbal or otherwise, that we are communicating. A favourite quote of mine sums this perfectly.
'Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.'
This is how I believe us men are listened too, especially when it comes to our health. And pre-empting any of 'oh, the mens are talking' from whomever, I am referring to listening to men in the context of our health. Please do not conflate male privilege with the fundamental right men have to be heard when it comes to our wellbeing. Don't. Especially when the number of male suicides, particularly in the UK, are the highest they've been since 2001. Men are killing themselves in record numbers and we need SOLUTIONS. And for me that means scrapping the male privilege rhetoric in this conversation and dumping the verbose egomaniacal anti-feminist posturing from some other male health commentators that feminism is out to get us. This all must stop. Now.
Health services, whom are providing a service to men, this is where I need you on full alert. Because, if men are not accessing your service, it's because you're not doing it right. I repeat, and remember the male deaths by suicide numbers as you read this. If men are not accessing your service, it's because you're not doing it right. You need to make your service a positive experience for men, so that they can access the essential health services you have on offer.
So here's a few ideas.
Ask a male staff member, or if you don't have one, ask a male client to join you to walk through your health service. From the front entrance to the waiting room, to the consult rooms. Ask this gentleman if the front entrance is male positive by asking "Does our service say 'Men come inside?'". If the answer is no, ask what can be done to change that. Once inside, ask the gentleman, 'Does the waiting room say we value you?'. Because one of the most common mistakes that waiting rooms make is that the walls are plastered with predominately female orientated materials, or there is an abundance of female brochures and magazines. Similarly, posters that exclude men from the family unit, and child custody brochures that have only the mother and child. These do not make for a male positive experience. Therefore, your service's messaging is one of negativity toward men, and, it it will be interpreted as such. This negative messaging also includes violence against women posters and support brochures. Plenty of us men know that violent men are doing these inexplicable things; rape, murder, financial control, social control, mind games, the lot. However, these posters and brochures contribute to the negative messaging your service is unwittingly promoting that 'Men, you are not worthy'. More often than not the backs of these brochures for family violence, or domestic violence, generally only have just a phone number to help women and a number to fix men's 'bad behaviour'. And yes, most men know that the rates of acts of violence against women by men outnumber that of female to male violence. However, if your service wants to engage with men, that's something else you are going to have to look at changing. Male lives depend on it.
If you have question you can follow me on twitter. Thanks for reading.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41