Feature written by Sophie Crabtree, who you can follow on Twitter @CrabSophie

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Joker came to cinemas in autumn 2019 and caused quite the stir. The protagonist (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has been an iconic caricature villain since 1939, when the first of the Batman DC comics were published. However, through his lens the audience uncovers the tumultuous series of events that led to his unravelling mentality, with his introduction to meeting the Wayne family taking a back seat.

Audiences were widely willing to listen to the where and whys of how mental illnesses develop – in this case from childhood trauma and isolation from others. It challenges the status quo created by the media that male violence is senseless and intended to incite terror: Jack (The Joker) first committed crime in self-defence, and it was greatly misconstrued by the journalists of Gotham City before the clown-face symbol was picked up as a pitchfork for its people. The film's creators established a pathos, showing him compassion; humanising him. It recognises the need for people to actively listen to one another about their issues, especially when he was vulnerable enough to attempt a dialogue with his seemingly bored social worker.

The reception by real-life professionals was a mixed bag, but regardless, the exploration of these issues on such a huge scale with great reach, is promising. So, are we seeing this reflected in society? Are we finally willing to bear witness to, and hear the stories of, men and their struggle with mental health?

I reached out to the campaign Time To Change (by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness). They are present on social media and their blog, reaching millions across England and the wider landscape.

Jo Loughran, their director, gave me her opinions on how crucial it is that we keep the momentum of this discussion going. They’ve even added a day to the calendar: Time To Talk Day, February 6th, beginning in 2020.

I started by asking her why it was so important to use social media as an outlet. She explained that it was crucial to "change behaviours" and "empower those with lived behaviours to take action." Interconnectivity is key: they work with other dedicated campaigners like Richard Taylor (@RichBiscuit21, who teams mental wellbeing with physical exercise), and organisations, which they know is "powerful". Those they champion include The Mighty, a site that covers a range of medical issues, using the voices of those with "lived experience" to advise and direct people who are looking for support; they also align themselves with the work done by Men’s Health, who give advice on recognising changes in a friend’s attitudes and behaviours.

I also asked her how she would best go about approaching the issue of mental health with a loved one. She replied: "Too often men hold back […] worry what others might think, or they fear they’ll be a burden." She startled me with the statement that their research concluded three quarters of men wouldn’t feel able to openly say they were struggling with their mental health.

They’re taking action: #AskTwice is their plea to get people "recognising that it’s not always down to the person who’s struggling to open up […friends should] show a genuine willingness to talk [as] the signal they [the men] need to open up."

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s vital to get our lads talking:

  • 76% of suicides are men, it’s the biggest killer in under 45s.
  • YouGov found that one out of five men don’t feel they have friends; one out of three are without a best friend.
  • Of those brave enough to report it, they make up 40% of domestic abuse victims.
  • Struggles in adolescence are a contributing factor to three quarters of white working class 16-year old boys who do not meet the government benchmark in literacy, which is shown to leave them socially isolated, lacking self-esteem, and ashamed.

Places to go

Andy's Man Club

If you’re looking for a place to meet with other men with similar struggles, or to sign post your friends in the right direction, then an honourable mention is Andy’s Man Club. They’re an admirable example of a travesty turning into triumph. Andy Roberts was 23 when he committed suicide, and it rocked his family. Luke Ambler, his brother-in-law, was so moved he set up the club in Halifax, where men over 18 could meet every Monday at 7pm. Online, the Club champions the hashtag #ITSOKAYTOTALK, and the ethos of non-judgemental sessions where men can just "sit and listen" with no pressure to volunteer their own experiences. By November 2019, they’ve expanded to 25 clubs across the UK, still with the same simple principles of listening with kindness.

The Mankind Project

With a similar set up to Andy's Man Club, established 35 years ago, it's old hat for the people you'll meet to encourage you to share your “whole truth" – even the ugly stuff – and let it be liberating. They're set up in 55 locations across England and Ireland.

The Lion’s Barber Collective

Tom Chapman is yet another who's experienced the grief of losing a friend to suicide. He wants to extend the chain of barbers that are able to recognise mental health problems, and then signpost to the right services and tools. "Join the pride" is their slogan. Tom recognised that clients often offload their stories onto their barbers without realising, as there is an intimacy to having someone in your personal space, and the time is more confidential than that spent with friends and family.

Men's Shed Project

If you don’t want to talk, then there’s the UK Men’s Shed Project. Inspired by the success in Australia, it seems we’re adopting the new tactic of inviting men to potter around together, to share a space and, perhaps, lend an ear. It’s estimated that 12,500 men have already benefited from the companionship created by the project.

It's clear there's still much to be done on tackling the stigma around mental health, for everyone, but the amount of progress being made to take down the walls and get men talking to one another is a promising start. Ask your dad, your brother, your lover, and #AskTwice.

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