As I know from my own experiences in the corporate world, academia, media, politics, working with the medical profession and working with senior leaderships teams across all sectors of the UK economy – as well as being a keen observer of sport, literature and public life – every day is men’s day.
Every day, men – frequently less-qualified and less able than the women who outnumber them – dominate key positions, the best opportunities and the organisations and meetings in which they are involved. It has always been galling to see my wife – as just one example amongst so many – face daily sexism and discrimination at work and in her life – and to have to deal with outdated, ugly, corrosive and dangerous stereotypes of gender roles.
It has always been a man’s world and, despite improvements across society, it still is. Even in 2020. This is something I think about every day as I watch my daughter growing up, bombarded with messages and expectations from a world that is still geared to maintaining the status quo, whilst at home we push back against that nonsense and talk about ‘yes you can’.
But I also think about my fellow men. I think about the pressures and expectations on men to continue to conform to the stereotypes and traditional roles that are too often imposed on them with horrendous consequences.
We are talking more and more – and about time – about the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’ and the emotional damage that is being done to boys and men across the country and the world of being bullied into behaving as men are too often expected to behave. No crying. No showing emotion. Get up if you fall over and don’t show any pain. Any weakness. Any vulnerability. And whatever you do, don’t talk about your mental health. Don’t admit you are struggling. Don’t show someone inside your carefully constructed emotional armour. Don’t give in to the the temptation of sharing. Sharing is not caring. Sharing is weakness. Be strong. Be a man. Man up.
Yesterday was International Men’s Day. A chance to publicly discuss issues that affect boys and men’s health and wellbeing. A great opportunity to talk about men’s mental health. Depression. Anxiety. Body image. Resilience. Grief. Self harm. Shame. Identity. And much more besides. An important moment to talk about the number of lives we lose every hour, every day, to suicide in the UK and beyond.
I made a short video for the university’s students’ union – I am now a new (old!) postgraduate student, studying counselling and psychotherapy, with a view to adding this knowledge, skill and experience to my lived experience of living with depression and a breakdown from 2014/15 to try to help others. I talked in this short video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX74q67j6qM – about my mental health and the approaches I take to try to stay well.
The key thing that arose yesterday again for me was that the positive response I got was not on the detail of what I said but simply because I was speaking out – being a man talking about his own mental health. Being open. Being honest. Showing some vulnerability. This is something I have been doing for several years and at times probably take it for granted as it is part of my daily life (writing, speaking, teaching, sharing on social media etc), but it is so important to acknowledge that it is still seen as a novelty – as something unusual – to see someone who looks like me (beard and all) being open about his mental health.
It shows once again how far we still have to travel on the road to normalising men talking about their mental health and having conversations rather than suffering in silence which can lead to life-shattering, life-ending consequences.
Every day may be men’s day when it comes to power, influence, employment rights, opportunities, earnings, profile and status, but not yet a day when men are talking enough about their mental health. To themselves. To each other. Out-loud. To anyone.
The stigma is still real for lots of men. The barriers still feel too high. The pressure to stay quiet are hardwired. There is much work to do – a day at a time. Today. Tomorrow. And every day.