I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this blog post, for fear of being ridiculed by men, or trolled by feminists, some of whom might feel I am disrespecting the cause. But actually, what is a feminist if she is not somebody who feels she can speak up about the issues important to her? Men's mental health has reached a crisis point, and as Professor Green's 'Suicide and Me' documentary highlighted, we need a seismic shift in the way we address it.
Here's why I think men's mental health is important:
1.More men die from suicide than women: We have known for some time that the death rate from suicide is much more common in men. In fact, 75% of UK suicides are by men: a shocking statistic that hasn't received much attention and doesn't appear to feed into suicide prevention initiatives by the government. The question 'How do we reach men?' is rarely asked when assessing these plans to reduce suicide in the UK. But we need to start asking it-now
2.Suicide rates are rocketing: l recently discovered that suicide rates in 2014 were at the second highest point in fifteen years. This means the problem is getting worse and the gender gap is growing, as female suicides are actually decreasing. It pains me to imagine a future, where, if this level continues to rise we could all know a man who has taken their own life.
3.Men don't have the support networks women do: From very early on, female friendship groups are different from male friendship groups; even at primary school I remember girls in pairs having 'private chats' about the things that were bothering them but the boys were rarely seen confiding each other. Women frequently share problems and actively seek out the advice of others when they're worried, but men don't. Instead we assume the typical man should be strong, in control of his emotions, able to support his family and make big decisions without help. It may be too scary for a bloke to speak out to his mates about how much he is struggling: after all, if no male friend has ever come to him for advice, how is he to know it is a safe thing to do? Men has less avenues for social support than women do, and as a result, may feel more isolated when it comes to their mental health.
4.Eating disorders in men and boys are on the rise too: When you conjure up the image of an eating disorder sufferer what you often imagine is a skeletal woman being tube-fed. Not only is the 'skeletal' and 'tube fed' image wrong (98% of ED sufferers never become underweight, B-eat, 2011) but the image that a sufferer is always female is also wrong. Approximately 11% of cases are male, although the actual estimate is likely to be much higher as it is considerably harder for a man to get a diagnosis of an eating disorder due to healthcare professionals viewing this a typically female problem. Alarmingly, a recent study from the University of Bristol found that one in seven boys had restricted their food intake by fasting, skipping meals or throwing away food and 1 in 5 felt dissatisfied with their body weight or shape.
5.Male mental health in the media: The media coverage of the case of Andreas Lubitz, the pilot who intentionally crashed a plane in March 2015 painted a very negative picture of male mental illness. Likewise, in the tragic cases of high school shootings over in the States, the male perpetrator's mental health is always discussed. In women however, the media coverage less frequently pairs mental illness with violence. The belief that mental illness leads to violence may stop men from speaking out, when actually people with mental health problems are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes, rather than the perpetrators.
6.Mental health issues are more common in gay men: A study by Cambridge University (2014) found that 11% of gay men and 15% of bisexual men reported experiencing mental health problems, compared to only 5% of heterosexual men. Gay and bisexual men were also more likely to report having a negative experience with GPs compared to heterosexual men, and the same was true for lesbian and bisexual women. It is possible that gay or bisexual men are more likely to report mental health problems compared to heterosexual men, but with the added societal pressures of coming out, the increased risk of bullying and potential discrimination, it is clear that we need to do more to support the mental health of this group.
7.The tide is turning-very slowly: Slowly, but surely we are seeing more mainstream coverage of male mental health. A number of A-list celebrities tweeted their support for Professor Green's 'Suicide and Me' documentary. In addition, 'Finding Mike', the inspirational story of Johnny Benjamin and the man who saved him from suicide, Neil Laybourn captured the attention of the British public has started to bring these issues into the spotlight. Super-brand Linx have teamed up with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) to launch the 'Bigger Issues' campaign to get men talking about suicide. So the tide is turning slowly, meaning it is an important time for both men and women alike to get behind the movement to improve male mental health, and make sure we don't ever let things get to this point again.