Spotlight on men’s mental health this International Men’s Day

By Anita Jaynes on 19 November, 2021

Today, Friday 19th November, it’s International Men’s Day. A day to celebrate the positive value men bring to their families, communities and the world. At The Business Exchange, we’re using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of men’s mental health and wellbeing.

A 2019 study conducted by the mental health charity Mind revealed that:

  • Two in five men (43 per cent) admit to regularly feeling worried or low 
  • Over a third of men (37 per cent) say social media has a negative impact on how they feel
  • The number of men who are worried about their appearance has risen from 18 per cent in 2009 to 23 per cent 
  • Men are still more likely than women to drink alone, go to the pub with friends or take recreational drugs to relax when feeling worried or down
  • The number of men who have suicidal thoughts when feeling worried or low has doubled to 10 per cent since 2009

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revealed that the suicide rate for men in England and Wales in 2019 was the highest for two decades, whilst a Samaritans report highlighted that men aged 45-49 remain at the highest risk of suicide.

Whilst it is too early to tell the true toll the pandemic has taken on men’s mental health, it is evident that it has exacerbated known risk factors for vulnerable people.

Men’s Mental Health – Swindon is an organisation co-founded by Alex Pollock. It works alongside local and national charities to improve mental fitness for the local community and reduce the stigma around men and their mental health.

We met Alex to find out more about the initiative and its current work.

Men’s Mental Health – Swindon was initially set up in 2018. How has it changed since its inception?

We initially set ourselves up to be a week-long creative campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. There was a huge amount of statistical data, alongside local focus groups and surveys, which painted a picture of what wellbeing can be like for guys in Swindon. 

This information fed into us and we were able to produce a localised campaign that spoke to men to encourage them to talk about how they were feeling. It also educated people on how to spot changes in the behaviour of a loved one. 

The campaign was a huge success. Once it finished, we were inundated with positive feedback and requests from residents and businesses to keep it going. That’s when Charlie Paradise and I decided to transform the campaign into a Community Interest Company (CIC).

Since then, we’ve been busy developing campaigns around mental fitness, working with local and national organisations to develop engaging, creative campaigns specifically for the Swindon area.

What projects have you been focussing on in the last year to support local men?

When the pandemic hit, all our best-laid plans went out the window! We could no longer meet with organisations, and we had to completely scrap a year’s worth of planned campaigns as we weren’t able to activate them exactly as we’d hoped.

Despite its adversity, the pandemic brought new ways of thinking for us, and it was not a time that we could be dormant. We ran a range of campaigns, including live-streamed music sessions, personalised doorstep diaries and, more recently, a campaign with local sportsmen on how physical activity positively impacts their mental wellbeing.

Since the start of 2020, our digital campaign activations have been viewed by nearly 250,000 individuals online, most of whom are from Swindon and the surrounding areas. 

Has the conversation changed in the last few years? Are there new challenges/concerns?

We’re definitely seeing a paradigm shift in public attitudes towards mental illness and there has been a huge amount of awareness over the last couple of years. We’re seeing an increase in conversations around self-care and plenty of well-known faces openly talk about their mental health. However, increased awareness does occasionally bring increased distress for some.

From our perspective, we’re conscious of how we shape the conversation locally and the terminology we use in discussions or campaigns. From feedback from surveys and focus groups, a lot of men said they didn’t connect with national campaigns that focussed on statistics or imagery of a negative depiction, like the classic ‘head-in-hands’ shot. This is why we always try to share ways in which the community can improve their mental fitness and take care of their wellbeing.

Mind’s research shows that social media has a significant impact on men’s feelings. As a 30-something man whose business is social media content and strategy, what are your tips for managing this relationship with social?

Whilst I see first-hand the benefits that social media can have on society and business, I’m also fully aware of the detrimental impacts it can have at times. It’s more important than ever to take the time to protect your mental wellbeing and build resilience for the future. 

I try to take control of my social media feeds and devices, making a conscious effort to unfollow irrelevant accounts or those that don’t bring me a sense of joy, as well as turning off all social notifications on my smartphone and devices. 

Every day at lunchtime, I pop on a podcast and go for a walk around the area, making sure not to check my phone. It sounds quite simple but has had a real positive benefit on both my physical and mental wellbeing. 

These, as well as a few other things, form part of what I do to prioritise self-care so that I can feel strong enough to tackle anything life throws at me.

If you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing, talking about it really does help. This isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.

Visit Men’s Mental Health – Swindon online at www.mmhswindon.co.uk and follow @mmhSwindon on social.