Megan Taylor and Kristina Evans

This Movember fathers, partners, brothers, sons and friends all across the globe will be sporting ‘taches in aid of men’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention. This November marks the 18th year of the pioneering campaign that has spearheaded efforts for fundraising and awareness concerning men’s mental health.

Many mental health campaigns have arisen over more recent years in support of men’s mental health, such as the FA’s Heads Up Campaign, which encourages men to talk about their worries just as much as they talk about football, and the Mental Health Foundation’s Curry and Chaat campaign which targets hard to reach audiences by providing a safe and familiar space to begin conversations about men’s mental health. However, even with these efforts, shattering the silence of men’s mental health is still a work in motion and this month especially is a time to take note and reflect on your personal and loved one’s mental health.

Specifically Male Challenges

It would be fair to say that often the harmful stigma attached to men’s mental health can be much more prominent than when it comes to women. Sometimes, we might unconsciously refer to outdated gender models which dictate that ‘manliness’ means being brave, strong, self-reliant, stoic, and every other ignorant definition you can think of.

However, now we know better than to simply generalise and pressurise individuals to be a certain way.

The assumption that men are emotionless because they are men is simply irrational. Anyone can feel low, irrespective of gender, and most of the time the best solution is to talk to someone about it (and that can begin with anybody, whether it is with a friend or a mental health professional). The days are gone in which expressing your feelings makes you weak, but rather, the male awakening towards the care and expression of mental health must become something we all mutually encourage.

Unfortunately, gendered workplaces and roles are still particularly prevalent, and employment can be a huge influence on our psychological well being. It offers monetary rewards, a sense of personal achievement, structure to one’s day, a period of activity, social interactions and financial security. Men are still often burdened by the title of ‘breadwinner’ for their family, and therefore, unemployment can carry an especially unhealthy weight for men's mental health.

Therefore, when possible, addressing mental health in the workplace among your peers, bosses and friends could be a good start to tackling the huge problem of the male mental health crisis. Sometimes, beginning at one of the large routes of the problem, with workspaces being both highly gendered and competitive, can be difficult. However, if we can all take the time to do as little as ask our peers how they are genuinely doing, a place for comfortable conversation and authentic relationships can replace toxic competition or rivalry which often occurs in the workplace.

Signs to Recognise

No two people’s mental health journey looks the same, but in 2019 a YouGov survey commissioned by Mind found that, in an effort to relax when feeling worried or down, men are much more likely than women to turn to drinking by themselves, going to the pub with friends or taking recreational drugs.

It’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits when feeling down, such as becoming socially withdrawn, taking comfort in alcohol or drugs, avoiding exercise, and consuming plenty of fast food. While many of these things are harmless in moderation, turning unconsciously to these unhealthy habits for comfort can become problematic when consumed in excess or used as a means of distraction.

Rather than hitting the pub, confide in a mate if you feel that you’re in a bad place mentally. Not only can this course of action alleviate the weight of your worries, but it also removes the temptation to drink hazardously or reduces the chances of developing drug dependency issues, as is unfortunately the case far too often for men experiencing poor mental health.

However, tell tale signs may not always be as obvious as clear or unhealthy changes in behaviour. As little as seeing your friends withdrawing from activities, talking less in your groupchats, or just seeming a little more distant than usual might be an indication your friend might be struggling. Sometimes, there may be no noticeable signs at all, which is why this November we are iterating to check up on the men in your lives.

Seeking Help

The most effective way to fight this silent struggle is by learning to recognise tell tale symptoms in yourself, speaking to the support network around you and checking in on friends who might also be having a tough time.

If you need to talk to someone anonymously, Samaritans offer a free 24 hour helpline (116 123) with trained volunteers ready to offer a friendly ear for whatever you're going through.

Here at Be Free we also offer advice on our website and a range of workshops focused on raising awareness, wellbeing, managing stress, establishing a healthy work life balance and a whole host of other issues that affect both men and women.

Other Existing Changes

There are many existing campaigns that specifically target the topic of men’s mental health. These include:

Lad Bible’s ‘U OK M8?’- A movement aimed at getting men talking by celebrating brave men, like olympian Louis Smith and musician Sam Fender, who have come forward with their experiences, in the hope of inspiring others to do the same.

Movember Conversations- An initiative encouraging men to put a stop to dead end conversations and reach out with the acronym ALEC.

Start by asking how they are feeling.

Let them know you're listening and give them your full attention.

Encourage them to focus on simple things that could improve how they feel.

Check in with them after your chat.