Strong on the surface: men & mental health

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Chester Bennington died on the 20th July 2017. He killed himself. He was 41 years old.

Most of the responses to the news of his death have been outpourings of grief. Personal and emotional, heartbroken and collective. Grief in the social media age is never alone. 

Some have pointed the finger in various directions – at fans who didn’t appreciate the new music and were cruel; at family and friends who didn’t see it coming; at technology and the non-stop world we live in. Some have even started conspiracy theories. 

But by far the most common narrative to come out of this most recent tragedy (Chris Cornell of Audioslave & Soundgarden killed himself in May 2017, the actor Robin Williams killed himself in August 2014) has been around mental health. And more specifically: male mental health. How we talk about it, how toxic masculinity underpins it, how we reach out to those suffering, how we de-stigmatise this disease which kills more men under 45 each year than heart problems or cancer.

I therefore want to share some of the stories of men talking about mental health. Because the more we show that it’s normal and right to talk about the way we feel – all of us, regardless of gender – the more likely we can save men from suffering, from suicide. And whilst I could wax lyrical about Bennington’s music, I think the best dedication I could give is to raise a platform to those who have and do continue to struggle, fight, and live – to show there’s hope – the way that he used to in his music, interviews, and actions.

MATT HAIG

Matt Haig is probably one of the most vocal writers around today speaking about mental health (and his own experiences with it). His Reasons to Stay Alive is a beautiful, heartrending but ultimately hopeful read from a man who broke down and then had to rebuild himself over the course of many years. Writing decades later, he discusses recovery in excruciating detail and leaves us some of the most iconic passages about mental health. Haig’s novels also deal with feelings of alienation, particularly as a man. The Humans is a great place to start with his fiction and his latest book, How To Stop Time, is out now.

 THE BARBERSHOP CHRONICLES

Could a haircut save your life? In this play from Inua Ellam, masculinity, migration and mental health are front and centre as we travel between barbershops in various different African cities and one in central London. Recent articles have come out exploring how a barbers acts as a safe space for men to talk about their feelings away from judgement. And that’s central to what Ellam explores alongside masculinity and identity. It’s a fascinating play and is coming back to the National Theatre in November.

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STORMZY

Okay, the story may itself be mired in controversy in how it was covered later but there’s no doubt that Stormzy telling his story was a pivotal moment for many. The interview is so candid. And it’s integral because it not only breaks down stigmas around men, but around black men, who are so under-serviced by community mental health services. There’s a brilliant article by Kamran Ahmed, here.

PATRICK NESS

Pretty much everything by Patrick Ness touches on the stigmas surrounding young men growing up when it comes to their mental health. What’s so key in Ness’ writing (particularly in The Rest Of Us Just Live Here and More Than This) is that even though it may feel otherwise, your mental health does not define your life – it is just a part of who you are and you can treat it. You can stand up again after the world has ended.

STEPHEN FRY

In his memoir, Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry talks very openly about his early attempts at suicide. He’s subsequently made documentaries looking at bipolar, depression, anxiety and recovery. He works with many of the charities like MIND (where he’s currently president)  and Time To Change too.

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Neil Hughes

A comedian and a writer, Neil Hughes has to be one of the most disarmingly open people you’ll meet. After years living with depression and anxiety, he’s the author of Walking on Custard, a book full of insights, anecdotes and advice. His brilliant TedX talk of the same name is a must watch.

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Know you’re not alone…

One of the hardest things about depression and anxiety is feeling like you’re the only one, like you’re some how cut off from the rest of the world. Men from all walks of life, all disciplines suffer from mental health issues. It’s time for change. It’s time to break the silence.

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RIP Chester Bennington

FOR THOSE IN CRISIS 

The most important thing is to talk to someone. It might be a sibling, a parent, a flatmate, a hairdresser – the most important thing is to reach out. They may not know how to react or have all the answers  but they can help you find some. And you may be surprised at how supportive they can be.

If you don’t want to go to a friend or family member, there are some brilliant groups and charities precisely aimed to help you. If you’re struggling with your mental health, MIND is a great place to find resources, numbers, downloads and much more. The Samaritans are also a fantastic helpline for people struggling with suicidal thoughts. Or, as Chester said in an interview – you don’t need to know someone to find a group and say ‘it’s about to get real in here’ if you think that’s the support you need.

If you’re worried about yourself (or someone else)…

Identifying the symptoms and opening up about feeling them is an important part of the journey. If you’re worried about a friend – maybe they’ve withdrawn or maybe they’re out all the time – then you can always help start the conversation by asking how they are.

Excellent advice and load of resources are available on Time To Change, The Movember Foundation, and CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserable for young men) too. All of these initiatives also take it upon themselves to redress the way men are discriminated against when it comes to opening up and seeking help.

Interesting Articles & Other Reads

The Debrief – following Mental Health Awareness Week, the question was: is talking enough? What else do we need to do to help men and reduce the stigma? This is a great article looking at those questions.

Other brilliant books that deal with themes around male mental health include It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan FilerDavid Owen’s debut, Panther, and the poetry of Beau Taplin.

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