Thursday, May 23Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Let’s Discuss: Male Mental Health

Emily Downie

There is an ever-present stigma surrounding the discussion of male mental health and its importance in today’s society. In most cultures, there remains the antiquated yet widely accepted view that it is more attractive for a man to be silent and strong rather than showing “weakness” by exhibiting poor mental health. Alternatively, it is seen as more acceptable for a woman to express vulnerability, and that it is the man’s role to protect and be strong for her. Indeed, if roles were to be reversed, the man would be deemed “too effeminate”. Phrases are thrown across adverts, in magazines, on social media — “be a man about it”; “men don’t cry”, “man up”.

In some cultures, the ‘cereal packet family’ concept still remains solidified in societal expectations and norms. This is the idea that the ideal family is a nuclear family – that is, a man who works and takes care of finance, a woman who acts as the homemaker, and two children. This is based on a typical 1950s functionalist concept which in no way addresses the sophisticated structure and diversity of the family today, and the changes which have come about over time. This concept puts a large pressure on males to be the one to be financially successful and bring home the money to fund a ‘functional family’, whilst simultaneously undermining the role of women greatly. Indeed, it can be looked down upon by traditionalists for a man to choose to be a stay-at-home father whilst the partner goes out to work. Additionally, paternity leave is a fairly new concept that previously was never an option, which reiterates the idea that men are expected to put work first and family second. 

‘Something About You’

A particular music video caught my eye last year, “Something About You” by Elderbrook and Rudimental. In this, males sit in a circle facing one another. The protagonist looks distressed and unsure of himself, and as he stands he begins to dance. It is blatantly visible how restricted and repressed he feels with his movement, yet he continues to dance. As the song progresses, other males begin to join in, and soon the entire room has stood up. By the end of the video, all are smiling and dancing with great ease and flow. This video was produced in order to represent restrictions many men feel in regard to feeling able to express themselves freely, particularly to other male figures in their lives. But the act of promoting this unity amongst males, promoting the concept of speaking out about mental health and how it affects them, allows these connections to be made and understanding to be shared. These steps need to be taken to promote the idea that there’s nothing shameful about coming forward and being honest in how you feel – the stigma that is so aggressively associated with this needs to be broken down.

What steps can be taken to work towards the breakdown of this stigma?

Something that is ingrained so deeply into societal expectations cannot be undone overnight, but there are small steps that can be taken to help to unwind this age-old attitude. It is important to let friends and family know that there are always people there for them whenever they need, whether that be yourself, other friends and family members, or mental health services such as Mind. Although many people may already know this, the act of expressing this to someone can be a huge step in promoting comfortableness in feeling able to open up about mental health, and remind them they have a safe space to go to. Indeed, when this is expressed to male figures, this reiterates the modern idea that it is not only women who are ‘allowed’ to discuss their mental health anymore. 

Positive male role models

Many celebrities in recent years have come forward to discuss their own mental health and highlight the importance behind discussion of this topic. Below is a list I have devised of celebrities who have partaken in this movement.

Anthony Joshua — the renowned boxing champion is an active campaigner for mental health in men, and discusses the relationship sports has with mental health. This includes anxiety he feels before fights, and ways he is able to combat this. By diving into these topics, Joshua is able to normalise discussion of this and encourage both younger and older generations to feel comfortable to do the same.

Prince William and Prince Harry — these members of the royal family have been the face of mental health campaigns, including Heads Together and CALM 

Professor Green — this musician is a patron of CALM, the mental health service leading a movement against suicide in males in the UK. He also is a documentary maker, focusing on issues such as male suicide and working-class struggles

Nick Kyrgios — the Australian tennis player took the brave step of opening up to the public about his experiences with depression and how this affected him. This goes to show that even the ‘all-star celebrities’ are affected by mental health

What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation” — Glenn Close