Fed up with not being able to find mental health resources he could connect with, Ben Driver founded Guy Cry Club to uncover what worked for him and how to make it accessible to others.
Guy Cry Club (GCC) is a community interest company that explores masculinity and mental health through art and creativity. In this interview, Ben shares his experience with mental health and explains the mission and purpose of GCC.
What is the need for GCC?
Ben: “We exist to explore masculinity and mental health, specifically through art and creativity. That looks like me putting on exhibitions, running workshops and giving talks about all of these topics to diversify the current dialogue on masculinity. To make that conversation as inclusive as possible and go beyond masculinity in regards to the confines of gender and other societal norms. To challenge some people's perspectives in order to encourage growth and allow people to feel like their version of masculinity is acceptable.
“Guy Cry Club came about thanks to a badge. Hosting a stall at a craft fair, I created a badge with the words ‘Guy Cry Club’ and several tears on it. The badge ended up being the most popular of all sales. Those purchasing it were obviously creative people and clearly had something to say about masculinity. Some were using creativity to speak on this but didn’t really have a home for their thoughts and feelings. Loads of people were asking me if the club was real, which eventually led to me questioning what else the club could be.
What’s been your experience with mental health?
Ben: “Mostly along the lines of depression and anxiety. Long-term anxiety ‘sufferer’. It’s just a part of my life at the minute and has been for a very long time. It’s always been surrounding my social environment and what other people think of me. That’s where it all stems from. And It’s fluctuated a lot. In those darker periods, I had no real knowledge of anxiety and depression, and it was very much a visit to the doctor, receive medication and goodbye.
“When I started to look at other things that might help me, I didn’t really find it. I guess this ties back into why GCC exists as well. I knew that art was a way for me to express things, but I never connected it to my own mental health, so when that time came about, I knew that I could actually start to manage my feelings in a productive, non-harmful way. It was only then that I really started to progress, not be scared about it and actually learn about it as well.
“Through the art that I was making, they created conversation, and that led to more understanding.
Why are men less likely to speak out about their mental health?
Ben: “There are so many reasons. In part, I think it’s because we as a society are still trying really hard to get people to talk when that’s not necessarily everyone’s way of expressing themselves or dealing with how they feel.
“I used to find it quite difficult to speak in words about my own mental health journey, but I have another outlet being art, and I know that I can use that. Even if I don’t show anyone the art that I make, I learn about myself through that process.
“For some reason, a lot of the larger charities focussing on men’s mental health are obsessed with this idea of going down to the pub with your mate and talking it out.
“It confuses me why this is being pushed so hard when surely there’s been enough time to look back and notice that different things help different people. There’s this whole demographic of people that could do with a different approach or something that’s a bit more open or gives people more options.
“Art is just one option, it doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s still an option. In the same way that playing sports could be. I feel like the emphasis should be on encouraging other people to find their outlets and the thing that makes them learn about themselves. It doesn’t matter what form it takes as long as it’s not harmful to them or other people. I think that’s the message that should be pushed.
“There’s such a distinction between men’s mental health and other people’s mental health, and I don’t think that’s necessary. I think for some men, that can help because of their own upbringing and circumstances, and they want to be a man that speaks to men if they’re going to speak to anyone. But if you’re not including women, people that identify outside of the binary in this whole conversation, then nothing will change because it still affects everyone.
Image Credit: Alexander Ward
What could you suggest to fix this?
Ben: “Currently, everyone’s energy is just put into one approach, and it’s not working. Asking people what they want would help. You can’t just make assumptions about the way that someone expresses themselves and what their comfort levels are.
“We’re seeing so many more grassroots organisations and community groups because people in government aren’t willing to learn about the alternatives.
Why do you think that mental health is so criminally underfunded?
Ben: “In my experience, I think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding in the NHS about what mental health actually is. I don’t think that the people that work within the NHS are given the appropriate resources and tools for it to then feed out to the public and the people that need support.
“I wouldn’t feel encouraged to become a therapist or work for the NHS because I would know that I’d be walking into a situation that was probably going to be damaging to my own mental health. Everything just feels very disconnected.
“The level of service and interaction that you get across different counties is so wildly different. Suffolk has been the worst, in terms of mental health support, for a number of years compared to other counties. I don’t particularly understand why that’s not changing.
“I do think that we’re at a point where the vast majority of people almost approach mental illness in the same way as physical illness. In terms of people are more willing to go and get a diagnosis or to reach out, but that’s when it falls short. It’s the actual support-giving.
We’re still really focussed, as a country, on providing support when someone has reached a point of crisis as opposed to preventative measures. It’s been spoken about loads more in recent years, but no one knows how to do that or make it a reality, pursue it and deliver it.
Why was creativity so important to GCC?
Ben: “It’s important because that’s how I realised I best utilised my voice. Once I realised that creativity was a way of me expressing myself, then I realised how important it could be for my life and for me to grow as a human being. But also as a way of engaging with other people and actually connecting with others.
“connecting with yourself and connecting with other people are like the two main things that we do in life. Since I realised that, I just never stopped [being creative], it’s the best.
What’s next for GCC?
“I’m currently working on a documentary. It’s about mental health and art and the links between the two. It’s focussed on five artists from Suffolk who have used art in completely different ways and have different stories about their creativity and their own journeys with mental health.
“I’m collaborating with Suffolk Pride this year doing an exhibition and a panel talk with those folks. I’m also a part of the SPILL festival, which is experimental art and performance art, so I’m doing a community day of workshopping and talks.
“In a nutshell, it’s just growing the club and seeing what more I can do with it.”
To find out more about Guy Cry Club, click here.