Typically, Piers Morgan nearly spoil it for everyone. Not just breakfast television programming or anything he tweets about. But today. International Men’s Day.
His “political correctness gone mad” on screen and on Twitter rants have become legendary in recent years – or as I prefer to call them, his ignorant, stigmatising, annoying rants. These include his trolling of International Women’s Day (on 8 March), which is widely seen as a fantastic opportunity to discuss issues – sometimes sensitive and difficult ones for society, families or individuals – about human rights, harassment, discrimination and health and wellbeing issues specifically impacting on women. Not sadly, by Mr Morgan. He sees it as a waste of time; a milestone to be mocked.
Today is the men’s equivalent, marked in countries around the world. The idea is to celebrate positive male role models and to raise awareness of men’s issues. These issues include those related to mental health, one of which is suicide. It, according to the Samaritans, is three times more likely in men than women in the UK and is the biggest killer of men in the UK under 45.
Mr Morgan and his anti-PC mates often respond to 8 March activities with the rhetorical question, when is it international men’s day? They ask this in a mocking, eye-rolling way that conveys contempt for the idea of the day; the result being it conveys contempt for those who use these days to seek help or seek to help others. Well, Piers, the answer to your question is that today is the day.
Days like today can help capture the attention of big and small organisations, the media and individuals across the world and can be a force for good. They can provide a platform or a showcase to raise awareness of issues and give people confidence to speak up, perhaps for the first time, about something in their lives which makes life tough for them. Perhaps too tough to be able to handle or so tough that life doesn’t seem like it can be lived. Often this confidence can be found by following the example of others – sometimes people in the public eye – who publicly address issues and put themselves out there to help others, showing vulnerability and something that had previously been hidden from view.
I have been struck by the positive response to the actor Stephen Graham’s weekend appearance on BBCs Desert Island Discs, in which he talked publicly for the first time about his experience of trying to take his own life. His story – and the stories of inspirational men like Matt Haig, Stephen Fry, James Rhodes and Princes William and Harry happily so powerful – so life-changing for people up and down this country and further afield, that they drown out the droning of Mr Morgan and co. As an aside, I write as an avid republican who, despair its grotesqueness, can see some silver lining in the horror show of Prince Andrew’s weekend interview – it may harden views as to the outdatedness of the monarchy and notion of a royal family sitting above us all – but I take off my cap to these royal men who are doing positive things with their blood, sweat (!!) and occasional tears.
These role models and men who, in much less public ways, help other men to feel less alone; less weak; less of a failure; less of a freak; and less of a lesser man, are playing a huge role in the transformation of the discussion about men’s mental health. My own public journey with my mental health story started with tentative, often euphemistic, language and has gained in frankness and directness as my confidence has grown. I have drawn confidence and inspiration often from some of these public role models but also in people disclosing their experiences to me – both men and women. Sharing some of their most intimate feelings and experiences, including at times how they considered and/or took steps to end their lives.
If today and other days like it teach us anything, then I believe it is that talking about stuff – hard, painful, difficult stuff – rarely makes things worse. I know that not everyone agrees – and not just because they share Mr Morgan’s world view. They disagree because they think that some things are best not said; that we were better off when we buried these negatives feelings and hid them away in sealed boxes under the stairs of our minds; that a problem shared is a problem doubled not halved; that people like me are making a fuss, seeking attention or just looking to be famous.
I don’t judge anyone’s way of handling their own issues and experiences. It is not my place to say my way is the right way. All I can do is to say thank you to the men and women who have broken their silence and told their stories – they have helped me tell mine – and telling mine has helped me to process it and deal with it.
As I think about International Men’s Day, I can say that the men who have sought some of my time and asked me to listen to their stories and issues have felt better afterwards – not because of anything I have done but because they have found the strength to say out loud something that has been rattling around in their head for so long that it hurt. They have showed great courage in speaking out and in doing that become role models for others. You don’t have to be Matt Haig to be a mental health hero and a role model – although he is.
Today should be a day for men to be heard. All men. Regardless of whether they see today as just another day or a waste of time.
It is truly never a waste of time to take some time to talk about mental health; it can save lives.