As December fast approaches, I walk to uni through a sea of charitable moustaches. Helping handlebars; pencils of positivity. Men’s mental health is on our minds and, quite literally, our lips. Student-run campaigns litter billboards and dominate Instagram feeds. The conversation is well and truly happening. Smash the stigma. Help your mates. All that good stuff.
Yet, as a man who struggles with depression and anxiety, I found myself questioning the reach, safety, and efficacy of the campaign. I began to feel frustrated by the media attached to Movember. I closely followed the campaign and the conversation seems to have become stunted.
It must be said that I have nothing but respect and admiration for the organisers and participants in the Movember campaign at UoN. I think Men’s Health Active, UoN Sport, and everybody else participating are doing wonderful work raising money and awareness, for what is an issue so often ignored. However, Movember’s overarching message and wider media coverage of men’s mental health have pigeonholed the dialogue into a very limited box.
Movember is providing support for the afflicted but none for those giving a helping hand
Hashtags such as No Strength in Silence and Smash the Stigma are the cornerstone of the movement but seem simplistic for an issue as complex as mental health. As much as statistics point towards men opening up less about their issues, it seems patronising to focus on this fact. So often we stress the acceptance of men’s mental health, that we miss an opportunity to provide ample support to specific individuals.
The other great initiative of the Movember movement is to check up on your mates. This can provide men with a support system that was previously nonexistent and can help with feelings of loneliness. This concept seems ideal until you consider the potential safeguarding issues for those who end up listening. Movember uses the acronym ALEC as a handy way to remember the ways to help a mate, and to me, it seems somewhat incomplete.
A – Ask
L – Listen
E – Encourage Action
C – Check-in
Now, this system champions selfless, open listening. Again, fantastic – but is this sustainable? If we as men take on a heavy burden of trauma from our friends, we can be left feeling overwhelmed and upset ourselves. Movember is providing support for the afflicted but none for those giving a helping hand. Hearing that your friend may be depressed, or even having suicidal thoughts, can be harrowing. The Movember campaign does nothing to promote safeguarding in this regard. Here I must commend Student Voice for including this in the ‘look after your mate’ workshop they have been running recently. However, it seems problematic that a student-run initiative is more in tune with these issues than the established charity creating the framework for helping men with their mental health.
Movember teaches us that it’s okay to talk about our problems, but gives us no information on what they might mean
The E in ALEC is my favourite part of the Movember initiative. It stipulates that if a mate has been feeling low for more than two weeks, you should encourage them to speak to their doctor. I think this is a section of men’s mental health that needs to be put in the spotlight much more. Help from a professional seems to me a much more pertinent solution than amateur conversations with a mate. Yet Movember provides next to no resources on what this may entail.
Upon following the ‘Get Support’ section of the Movember campaign I am met with a maze of hyperlinks and bureaucracy. Links to suicide hotlines and local initiatives. In short, a spider’s web of support. I feel as if information laid out similarly to the ALEC initiative could be incredibly beneficial to someone confronting their own mental health for the first time. Movember teaches us that it’s okay to talk about our problems, but gives us no information on what they might mean. Infographics explaining depression or anxiety could help individuals to identify their issues on a medical level. I, for one, would welcome wider education on the specifics of men’s mental health.
From here the conversation needs to progress to how we can deal with these issues. Help with mental health difficulties isn’t as black and white as talking to a mate or seeing a doctor. From mindfulness practices to cognitive behaviour therapy, we need to speak about what help entails and how it can help men. This would open up the movement not only to those who are new to opening up about their mental health, but also to people who have struggled for a long time.
We need information, safeguarding, and inclusion to become paramount in the conversation
These resources are readily available to those who might spend a bit of time seeking them out but we have to ask ourselves – when will the conversation change? It simply isn’t good enough to recycle the rhetoric of acceptance year after year. If we are going to change the landscape of men’s mental health we need information, safeguarding, and inclusion to become paramount in the conversation.
The stigma is being smashed as you read this. The great, tight-lipped institute of silent suffering will soon be demolished. The conversation needs to shift and give men a deeper look into what accepting their own challenges truly means.
Of course, we should speak openly. We should support our friends, as we hope they will for us. But this is not a comprehensive way to deal with men’s mental health. Men deserve to be afforded the respect to deal with mental health as adults. That means a fully open conversation – not a reliance on slogans and pints with your mates. Movember is great – but it’s time for a change.
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