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.
Do you know what the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is? No it's not traffic accidents, drugs, alcohol or even a type of cancer...
In the UK there were 4,623 male suicides last year. That's 12 a day. 76% of all suicides are by men, with the rate of suicides by women declining and by men rapidly rising.
Some 42% of men aged 18-45 have considered suicide and every two hours a man takes his own life in the UK.
These statistics are shocking, but still aren't widely known or addressed.
I recently wrote and shared this article on MFM as part of the CALM and LYNX #biggerissues campaign. It's probably the most personal piece I've ever shared and I had a lot of reservations when publishing it. But the response has been phenomonal and, since it was International Men's Day this Thursday and male suicide was debated in Commons for the first time ever, I wanted to share it here also...
Rewind six years...
Now this is something I've never shared before. Something I've held back from talking about and something I've avoided sharing because of worrying what others might think.
But if this story can help just one person, I'd be happy.
This is a watered down version of a story which turned my life around. It was the hardest six months of my life and something I hope other people wouldn't have to go through.
Back when I was 18 I lost my Dad to suicide. He was stable in his career, was loved by his family, friends, and most importantly looked after himself. He had a psychology degree, was a keen athlete, physiotherapist and read a lot of self help books.
Out of nowhere he had a 'breakdown', going from being the person he always was to being put on anti-depressants. My dad had a very holistic approach to health, he wouldn't even take a paracetamol to cure a migraine. So when he accepted anti-depressants from the doctor we knew something was wrong.
It seriously was out of the blue. Nobody expected it, and my dad was never one to really show his emotions. In fact he wasn't really a manly guy, he was very sensitive, polite and loving towards his family. But with this being said, he was never really one to shed a tear.
After his breakdown we supported him as a family. It was still an extremely confusing situation though and something we of course thought would pass. Initially it only really was my Mum, my brother and me who knew and the support we gave him always seemed short lived. He'd open up, we'd support him, he'd brush off his emotions and get on with life... only to then breakdown again.
From the initial breakdown, from him opening up to the challenges he was facing and breaking down into tears within two weeks he tried to take his own life.
It shocked everybody.
He'd called for an ambulance as he was getting suicidal thoughts and was seeking help. They took him in, called us about what had happened and as he waited in A&E decided enough was enough.
He walked out, walked to the main road and walked in front of van.
We were on our way there from work as soon as the phone call happened, but the feeling of helplessness is a feeling I simply can't describe.
After the accident, and after being told to say goodbye to him by the Nurse, he was transferred to another hospital where he had a blood clot removed from his brain. He spent 6 days in a coma.
It took him a while to come round, and couldn't remember what happened but he never got back to the person we always knew. He always denied the fact he'd tried to take his own life, blaming it on the medication which at the time seemed true. But looking back, maybe it was just embarrassment because as a man not being able to deal with challenges isn't something you'd easily admit.
He spent five months in and out of a mental health unit, and at times felt to be handling everything well... until he took his life in March 2009 by walking in front of a lorry...
... just six months after his first breakdown.
Six months. From 'feeling low' to trying to take his life twice.
It shocked everyone, from us to his friends, his co workers, everyone asked why? He had everything going for him, he was happy, why do something like that?
It took me years to realise that as men life can become pretty difficult.
It took me years to realise why he did it, and it took me years to realise how to deal with it like a real man.
I buried my feelings, my anger and my thoughts deep inside and spent more time working, going out and doing things to avoid having to think about it. I was always compared to my Dad too, in terms of our personality, the things we enjoyed and even the way we looked. I went through a stage of thinking that comparison was a negative, thinking because of the comparison I'd end up the same way as him.
It wasn't until self reflection and looking to grow as a person led me to dealing with how the situation affected me.
It took me six years to share the story, and I haven't even gone into this much detail with my closest friends.
I accepted the decision he made, I'm extremely grateful for what an amazing dad he was to me, and I will never blame him for anything he put us through.
Four Things You Can Do
I wanted to highlight four key things I believe any man can do to help deal with issues they might be facing.
This comes from personal experiences, working with others and years of self reflection.
- Let Go and Open Up
It's something us men don't do often. The first stage to dealing with any challenges you might be facing is to simply talk about them.
Ever walked into work and seen a woman upset in tears? Sure it catches your attention and makes you wonder what's wrong but typically you pretty quickly believe she'll be ok. But what happens if you walk in to work and you see a male employee crying his eyes out and getting consoled? It's more of a shock right?
Men do have issues with opening up, and it's most likely down to society and the masculine traits we're all told to live by. But not letting go of emotions and opening up to how you truly feel is killing us. Seriously.
We mask our emotions and replace them with short term solutions.
If we feel worried, anxious or depressed about a situation we push it back and replace it with distractions. We work more, buy more, drink more and even date more. Football, the gym, social media and starting 'banter' are again all distractions we use to mask the underlying sh*t we've got going on.
These distractions that mask how we truly feel make us feel good for short periods but deep down the worry, the anxiety and the depression simply hasn't been dealt with.
Years pass and the issues we've been distracting ourselves from suddenly resurface, causing breakdowns, deep depressions and simply not wanting to live anymore.
The majority of women find it easier to open up, they find it easier to let go, to talk about their issues with their friends... We don't.
Sure, the pub on a Friday night with five of your mates might not feel like the right place to let go and open up but it's important you let go and open up somehow.
A close friend, a family member, a counsellor or even giving CALM a call will all have a huge effect on how you feel.
'The feeling is almost like when you've been dying for a piss and you finally get to go' - I remember reading this and thinking it's probably the most manly way of explaining the benefits of letting go.
When you finally open up, let go of your issues and release your emotions the feeling is like a huge weight off your shoulders. It's a feeling that will change the way you feel and secure a better future.
Being able to talk about the challenges and pressures you face rather than using distractions for them is the biggest thing you can do.
Real men cry. Real men deal with their issues and aren't afraid to let go and open up. The options are there for you to do so... And don't be afraid.
- Take Responsibility and Find Gratitude
One of the best ways to deal with negative thoughts is gratitude. What are you grateful for?
Struggling to pay the bills this month? Sure that's a worry but worrying about the situation isn't going to help. Shift your thoughts to things you're grateful for... Your family, your friends, the country you live in, the fact you even have a house to live in and assets to fall back on.
Worrying puts you in a negative state making it a lot harder to get out of the situation you're in. Gratitude puts you in a positive state of mind, making it easier to deal with the challenges.
If you want to show your masculinity take responsibility. Take responsibility of your thoughts, your actions and the life you live.
Hate your job so much it's making you depressed? Take responsibility for it. Address your thoughts, open up and let go, and make a decision which will help the situation.
It's important to self-analyse and define your purpose. What is it you want to get from life? Nothing is holding you back apart from self limiting thoughts so take responsibility. What you want to achieve from life can be achieved if you take responsibility.
We love the blame others. We love to moan too. Moaning about the Mrs is pretty common, but maybe it's you that needs to change?
'When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change' - Wayne Dyer
We moan about the football, our work, the weather and politics. Stop moaning and stop blaming others.
You're in complete control of your thoughts and your life. Everything you do is your choice. Take responsibility and start living life as you want too.
- Invest In You
A common display of depression is letting yourself go physically. Emotional eating, drinking more alcohol, exercising less and neglecting personal hygiene are issues you may be facing.
Investing in yourself and continually looking to grow as a person is another thing you could be shifting more attention into.
It comes down to a lack of responsibility again. We feel challenged, we struggle to deal with the pressures of being a man but we don't do anything about it.
How much time and money do you invest in to the maintenance of your house? The heating, electrics, the rent/mortgage, the furniture, the electronics, even maybe the cleaner and gardener?
But how much do you invest in you?
What do you do daily that makes you happy?
Investing in yourself can be as simple as spending 30 minutes doing something you and only you love to do (alone). Becoming self reliant and being able to enjoy your own company is one of the best things you can do.
Exercise more, eat better, drink more water, meditate, read more, push comfort zones, take up a hobby, get a massage, dress better, get a haircut and start a business... These are just a handful of things you can do for yourself.
You're number 1. You should be your main priority. Your family and friends are only going to benefit massively from you working on your personal growth.
If you feel like it's time to make a change then reach out. Send me an email on email@example.com. I'd be happy to help.
- Share The Message
So CALM are doing some amazing things in terms of spreading awareness and it's important that we help out.
I had to face a lot of fears to put this post out there, and I even debated doing so... So If this post resonated with you, I want you to do me a favour.
Get involved at biggerissues.co.uk and get the message out there. The facts are shocking, it's time we did something about it.
Let's get people talking about this, let's get people talking about #biggerissues.
This was hard to write and it was even harder to publish.
Since it went live on MFM the emails, the comments and the shift I've had has been extraordinary. Now I've been able to spread the word more widely via Huffington Post, and raising awareness, alongside doing something about the way men deal with their issues, is hugely important to me.
If you've been affected or bereaved by suicide, there is information and resources to help at Support After Suicide. If you're worried about someone, CALM has published details on how best to approach the situation. If you need help, don't hesitate to call CALM or use the web chat.
CALM works hard to challenge a culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it, and is currently working with Lynx to encourage people to park the small talk and discuss #BiggerIssues like male suicide. Find out more at biggerissues.co.uk.