Throughout history, the male gender has always been portrayed as a monolith – an emotionally simplistic species that has little emotional capacity beyond lust, hunger and tiredness. This trend has carried through from caveman to post-modern hipster, where once we became excitable over a successful hunt, now our minds are satiated by our football team winning on a Saturday, a stimulating art exhibition or a great night out. Funnily enough, sometimes the first example can still hold true (in my case, especially).
However, the general stereotype is tired, outdated and frankly boring to continually hear; especially if it’s from an informed voice. This stereotype is in fact dangerous; it almost encourages traditional ideas of male masculinity to be passed on by emotionally limited fathers, continuing the ‘stiff upper lip’ or ‘proper man syndrome’. It can also be passed on ironically, by the fathers’ refusal to accept their own mental health issues they have kept hidden. This limiting of a boy’s psyche can be hugely damaging and have long-lasting consequences for their children and their children’s children.
This leads me to my next point. Throughout the 20th and 21st century men have seldom, if ever, had deep and meaningful conversations about their mental health. Stereotypically, groups of men won’t discuss their mental health issues openly with one another. Sometimes this is out of fear, fear of emasculation, anxiety or a reluctance to open themselves up to being ‘bantered’ if they do so. As a result, men have taken to bottling up their feelings, socially isolating themselves. At best, this is unhealthy, at worst; this can lead to tragic consequences. This could be in the form of developing mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other serious conditions which need to be treated with respect and compassion. These issues can also result in severe mental breakdowns, which can have catastrophic social effects including divorce, job loss and the collapse of relationships within both family and friendship circles. At its most destructive, mental health issues can be life-destroying and end the life of the men affected, through suicide.
If we are to change the conversation around male mental health, actively break down the social barriers and the systemic cultural stigma that have been in place since time eternal, we as men must challenge the status quo and get our own house in order. Without it, the conversation will continue to stagnate and change will seem a distant and abstract concept. We must also push back against those who would seek to derail the conversation, educate them on their ignorance and elucidate to them the damaging consequences of their words. All of these issues, my own experiences with mental health issues and more is why I decided to create VENT.
In the current mental health climate we are living in, there are an insufficient number of platforms to actively support men with mental health issues. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for men between the ages of 20-49 in the UK. We have seen heart-breaking high-profile cases like Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, AudioSlave and Sound Garden’s Chris Cornell and Welsh footballer Gary Speed amongst many others. These men took their own lives because they could not face the pain and suffering they were enduring any more. These individuals were not selfish or stupid. They were men who lost their battle with their mental health issues and we as a society must take the blame for allowing them to get to a stage where they felt life was no longer worth living. For someone who was such a big fan of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington’s death affected me profoundly. Even when I listen to their posthumous record ‘One More Light’, I am overcome with emotion. The song’s lyrics and Chester’s vocals speak to me in a way that no other song has done, precisely because I’ve felt exactly that way countless times for so many years. “Who cares if one more light goes out in this sky of a million stars?” is just one line that channels a feeling of expressive abandonment and nihilistic self-destruction that I have felt throughout my life and I’m sure many others have as well.
Following his death, some on social media made misguided comments about it. Many people openly asked questions like ‘how can he be depressed with his amazing life’? They asked this largely due to the fact that he had a loving wife and children, a successful music career that had earned him millions of dollars and an adoring fan base who loved him. This episode encapsulates the complete lack of understanding that some members of the public have of what exactly depression/mental health are and why education needs to be given. “Why would he throw that all away?” “How could he leave his family behind?” The sad truth is that in Chester’s mind, all of that probably seemed irrelevant. For people in a similar position to his, all they can see is the self-destructing prism of inferiority through which their mind has taken them. Their self-esteem, self-worth and purpose have spiralled into a cycle of hatred and desperation that (in their mind) has made them think the world would be a better place without them.
The crisis we are facing in men is a very real one and it is one that needs addressing immediately. We must show those men struggling to cope with their mental health issues how valued they really are in this world before they take their own lives. We must demonstrate that it is OKAY to show emotion in public, that it is OKAY to talk about these issues and that it is OKAY to be honest about your own struggles and ask for help. Even if this website helps just one person talk to someone about their mental health issues, then I will view my life as fulfilled.
However, there are reasons for optimism and the landscape is slowly changing. We have seen more and more high-profile men open up about their mental health issues and address them out in the unforgiving light of the public eye. The diversity has been truly gratifying to see; former WBC Heavyweight Champion Frank Bruno, Prince Harry, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, Stephen Fry, Professor Green, Rory Bremner, Marcus Trescothick and Robbie Williams have all put their struggles with mental health out for people to see and have accepted their problems as something they must deal with.
In order to better understand male mental health and the issue more widely, we must understand how mental health affects other communities and sections of society. How are the black community, the asian community or the LGBT community affected? Are there areas of learning and areas where one is better at providing support than another? By engaging with men from across these planes of experience, we can better understand one another. Through understanding, we can construct a cohesive narrative that breaks down stigma across race, class, ethnicity and religion. It is only when we gather this plethora of intersectional voices that we can truly break down barriers for men from all walks of life. Hopefully this article is the first step on a long journey to making that happen.
My ultimate goal is for VENT to become an outlet for men and boys of all ages to be able to talk about their mental health issues openly and safely, without fear of reprisal, breaking down stigmas and opening conversations. The articles, interviews or blogs they provide can be the first or the last step on their pathway to acceptance and maintaining a healthy, happy and functional life.
I hope VENT can provide closure, the kick-start or the coping mechanism men need to confront their mental health issues. VENT may be an outlet for men, but this does not stop both men and women alike from finding relevance to the issues we discuss or the problems we expose.
We have exciting plans in the coming weeks and months to help get as many people engaged as possible. If you have a content idea, let us know and we will do our best to help facilitate it. And finally, make sure you like, share and spread the word. If VENT is to be a success, it will only happen with your support.