We are currently in the midst of some important dates: yesterday was International Men’s Day, and the whole month of November is the flagship period of the Movember Foundation. What both of these events have in common is their dedication to raising awareness of men’s health, and in particular focusing upon mental health and suicide prevention. The theme for this years International Men’s Day was Stop Male Suicide, and whilst the moustache growing month of November is what is most closely associated with the Movember Foundation, it is in fact an organistion working all year round to tackle men’s health issues, including suicide prevention. The statistics on the subject are frightening. Around the world on average we lose a man to suicide every minute of every day, and three out of four suicides are men.
It’s hard to reconcile why there are such a high proportion of suicides among males. Perhaps it’s simply that men are a lot less comfortable with opening up about their feelings and emotions, and about mental health in general. There is a lot pressure within the media for men to act tough and manly, and to not show any emotion. Men may consequently feel self conscious about admitting their vulnerabilities and frailties, misguidedly believing that it depletes their levels of masculinity, and therefore makes them appear unattractive, weak and somehow inferior. It’s often been the case than men just ‘brave things out’, ‘get on with it’, and keep their emotions to themselves, because they are ‘men’, and that’s what ‘men’ do. However, the bravery comes from opening up and talking about mental health, rather than by burying it deep down under a facade of pretend happiness; a pretense which in my own personal experience results in the volcano inside consistently being at the point of eruption.
In every country in the world (bar China where its equal) the male rate of suicide is higher than that of women, and in Russia the rate of male suicides is 6 times that of women. The statistics are staggering, and its not an exaggeration to say that mental health is truly a global and silent killer. For the first 22 odd years of my life (before I first went to the doctor) I would rather have cut off my own arm than talk about what I thought was ‘my big weakness’, and the idea of recounting my experiences in a blog or to camera would have been bordering on the ridiculous. However it soon becomes apparent that the more you talk about it, the easier it does become, and with the support of those around you it can be a vital step towards changing those terrifying statistic above. I’m not saying that merely talking about mental health will solve everything, as this is far from the truth, and medication and therapy will play an important part, and there will be many bumps in the road along the way. But at least you are on the road, and haven’t felt that you have needed to leave the path as so many men and women tragically have. As a society we need put the treatment of mental health up there with cancer, and provide as much funding and study as we possibly can to make people sit up and take the illness seriously. If not, then I fear it will get a lot worse before it gets better.
Pouring money into the NHS, supporting children and young adults with mental health treatments, and funding charities like The Samaritans, Calm and Movember are undoubtedly crucial actions that need to take place. However, a simple act of asking someone how they are, or listening to them talk about how they are having a bad day, can be all that is needed to push someone into opening up, and make them realise that they are not alone. It is infinitely more difficult for someone to admit to their mental health issues when they feel that they have nobody that cares or who will listen to them. If we can make this world a place where opening up is not a challenge but merely part of life, and where the idea of depression being a stigma is a thing of the past, then we will be on the way to cultivating an environment where we can really begin to tackle this silent killer in the decades ahead. This may seem like a monumental task, and a impossible feat, but after all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.