Man Strong

The equivalent of 90 men die by suicide each week, in the UK alone. Yes, you read that right, 90 men a week. And in the UK men remain three times as likely to take their own lives than women, and in the Republic of Ireland four times more likely *

So when Will reached out to us to share his piece on male peer pressure and mental health, we jumped at the chance to hear his story. We don’t hear from men like Will enough, and we need too. This is why blink feels it’s important to give people like Will a voice; but also why our ultimate aim is to provide free rapid professional and peer support when people need it most. Thank you Will for the incredible piece below.

There is no way to sugar coat it. The single biggest killer of men under the age of fourty-five in the UK is suicide**

Its not driving too fast, its not smoking, its not even showing off and doing something ridiculously stupid. It is choosing to take one’s own life as a realistic, perhaps even practical choice over struggling on in the face of societal attrition. Attrition might seem a harsh word. A word normally saved for the portrait of the horrors of World War One. Yet it is difficult to find a word more suited to the situation we face. Adversity people like to call it. Character building stuff.

With just under 50% of men between the ages of 18 and 50 years old having admitted contemplating suicide we find ourselves in danger of isolating a huge section of society by simply following outdated social mores and insisting that nothing more than a stiff upper lip or a can-do attitude will see us over the finish line. The question is then, I suppose… What finish line? At what point do we as individuals; regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, decide that we’ve achieved what we (or society) expect from us?

‘’How is work? Oh, and the kids? Well I hope.’’ But when was the last time anybody actually opened up to that question? When was the last time you asked somebody how they were and (God forbid) they actually told you? As the Late Heath Ledger is quoted as saying ‘’Everyone asks you about your career, if you own a house or are married. But no one ever asks if you’re happy.’’ And here lies the crux of the matter. With Mental Health Awareness becoming more and more talked about in everyday life (and very rightly so!) we find ourselves in a hugely paradoxical, perhaps moreover hypocritical situation. We encourage one another to open up. There is no shame in reaching out. So why then do so many men find themselves discouraged to do so?

I have found that I have been pleasantly surprised by my own discussions of my personal mental health struggles. So much so in fact, that when I have opened up about how I’ve been feeling about ¾ of my male friends admitted to feeling the same. Strength is seen as providing, bringing home the bacon, being the authoritarian in the household when the kids get unruly. Being the shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Driving the five-door family car with the nice badge on the front thank you very much!

Yet when one does open up, you can and most doubt will, or have been overwhelmed by the support and understanding you are shown by those you hold nearest and dearest. So much so in fact, that it is usually the ones who you least expect to understand that can bamboozle you with an outlook on life that reassures you in a way you didn’t know possible. Every person you meet knows something that you don’t, after all.

While it’s true that many men don’t share their emotions because that is what they have been taught to do it is time to change that philosophy. We hide behind bravado and jokes and finger pointing. By sticking our chests out and by buying the manliest razor with the most blades the company can possibly fit on-to said razor.  It is, simply put. Rubbish. Toxic masculinity at its worst. The perpetuated idea that masculinity equals strength (and vice versa) signifies that men should solider on or simply man up in the face of the aforementioned social attrition. The idea of the alpha-male in modern society is a dangerously outdated and simplistic stereotype. It is anxiety inducing and it is as archaic as sexism, racism, pretty much any and all isms to be fair!

Toxic masculinity divides. It isolates and unfortunately, it kills. I finished school twenty years ago now and have sadly lost two classmates to suicide. Two too many. If male suicide was a disease it would be considered an epidemic that would be discussed in the national news daily.  So, then I encourage others regardless of age, race, or gender to reach out. Reach out to a friend. Reach out to a parent. Reach out to a teacher or a colleague or a stranger. Just reach out. You might surprise yourself with just how good it feels. Real strength comes not from bottling up emotions but from sharing. To use a tired old cliché ‘’sharing is caring’’ Overused? Absolutely, over practised? Sadly not.

Me? I’ve come to realise that there is no finishing line. No point in which you suddenly feel validated in your personal or professional life. With 2/3rds of adults admitting to possession envy- looking over the neighbours fence essentially- we put ourselves in a mindset that will always want a bigger television or a smarter phone. As if somehow possessions, status or in this instance expressions of masculinity (or playing the role thereof) are the precursor to happiness. Remember when you were a kid and you thought your parents had it all figured it out? They were making it up as they went along. We all are. For me there is no moment of clarity, no moment of validity. Unless of course my moment of clarity is exactly that! Who knows, not me that’s for certain! But one thing I can say with confidence is that by encouraging each other to be strong (in the real sense of the word) we must encourage one another to speak candidly about what makes us unique. Call it insecurity, call it want you want, a modern society requires a modern approach.

What we think divides us in character is often the one thing that unites us as human beings. It’s different to each of us, as are the triggers for our struggles, our vices and indeed our coping mechanisms (if you will excuse the ism!) You don’t have to pretend you’ve got it all figured out, because quite simply nobody does, but you do have to keep on moving forward. Take small steps. Ask yourself. Have I showered today? Have I changed my bedsheets recently? Sounds simple doesn’t it? But it can be huge. 

Find an outlet no matter what it may be. Jogging helps. Opening up, even more so. Some people read to escape the world. Me? I read and I write in order to feel connected to the world around me, safe in the knowledge that how I feel inside has been felt by many since the beginning of time. It’s my way of reaching out, and with a bit of luck hopefully reaching somebody else at the same time. Remember, you are not alone. Now, excuse me if you will. Time for that shower.

https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/suicide_statistics_report_final_dec_0.pdf

**https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/suicide/

If you need immediate support please dial 999 or go to A&E, otherwise the below organisation may be of assistance (please not this is not an exhaustive list and there is much more support out there).