CW: This article discusses topics of mental health and suicide which may be distressing to some readers.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Three times as many men as women die by suicide; however, we still can’t be sure how representative these figures are as to what’s truly happening. This is likely because not all mental health cases get reported, and many cases go undiagnosed. The mental health foundation says that this may be especially true when it comes to men’s mental health.
Alex George, previous contestant on ITV’s Love Island, recently lost his younger brother to suicide. The physician turned TV personality is now an ambassador for UK Youth Mental Health within the Department for Education. Discussing his brother's passing, Alex stated that:
“The awful shame is [that many] don’t tell you, so you’re not aware that they’re struggling. We know that men generally use violent forms of suicide, while women have more help-seeking behaviours and will often present to A&E or they’ll talk to their friends.”
Since being appointed ambassador, Alex has shown a great interest and an even greater effort towards his role. He is routinely active on Instagram and aims to get the conversation started on men’s mental health. Furthermore, his concerns primarily lie with early anxieties and the prevention techniques that could be put in place as a means of action. He has also called on new Prime Minister Liz Truss to fund 190 Early Support Hubs.
But why the stigma?
Mental health, or rather known in its derogatory form as ‘illness’, has previously been stereotyped as dangerous or disorderly. Previous generations have also discriminated against mental health issues, going as far as ignoring its existence and even using it as an umbrella term for other cognitive and behavioural conditions.
For many decades, research into mental health and its causes, protection, and prevention, has been at the forefront of psychological study. As telling results have come to light, and the conversation has slowly expanded, the stigma has gradually dispersed. However, those who believe mental health is a fad, or rather make-believe, are spreading the wrong idea to younger generations.
It can be argued that older generations tend to dismiss mental health because they themselves had to struggle through what they may regard as ‘tougher’ times than today's circumstances. Therefore, they think that because they had to struggle without help, younger generations should too.
However, their opinion that the younger generation is just “overly sensitive” as opposed to one that is struggling greatly with mental health is neglectful. In a debate on Quora, one user put this best as:
“We are a product of our environment. Our current environment was molded by the older generation. They are devastated with the fact that they sold the children for the almighty dollar. School-healthcare-college-mental illness…all for profit. Now they are in denial.”
But why don’t men talk about their mental health?
In recent years, many charities and mental health advocates have encouraged the conversation around men’s mental health. We are witnessing increasing campaigns in hopes of reducing the stigma, and statistics show that this is working. Furthermore, society's expectations and outdated gender roles are still largely to blame for the silence around men’s mental health.
Gendered stereotypes and ignorant views on the way that men should respond to their mental health are still at the forefront of many people’s perceptions. In instances where men feel uncomfortable discussing their emotions, they have likely been suppressed by society's widely disseminated stereotypes.
What is being done about this?
In a Public Perceptions Survey, results found that 78% of men say it’s more commonplace to discuss mental health than five years ago. Additionally, it was found that 83% of men believe that it’s a good idea to seek counselling or psychotherapy before a problem becomes irreversible.
As previously mentioned, mental health campaigns are on the rise. Notable campaigns include the FA Cup x Heads Together campaign of May 2019 and LADBible’s UOKM8? September 2021 social content campaign. Heads Together, a mental health initiative frequently associated with Prince William, partnered with the FA, arguably one of the most male-followed governing bodies within the UK; it aims to generate the most meaningful conversation around mental health ever seen. The campaign covered the overall stigma around mental health but mainly played to the fact that men are less likely to ask for support.
LADBible, a media group which has shot to fame in recent years, launched its social content campaign just over a year ago now based on their own audience poll wherein 37% of respondents revealed that they had, at some point, considered ending their own life. With a growing audience, and one that initially targeted a predominantly male audience, LADBible’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Their use of ‘UOKM8?’ as a slogan particularly resonated with its audience as it was unique to their style.
As the conversation around male mental health increases, we can only hope that everyone feels more comfortable discussing any unfamiliar feelings. With what feels like more acceptance from many brands and media channels, and with more acknowledgement from the government and higher powers, we can remain help that the male mental health crisis can come to a swift end.