Label’s Editor in Chief Izzie Naish analyses the reasons contributing to the stigma surrounding male mental health and how Movember aims to combat this silent pandemic.
On average, one man dies by suicide every minute of every day. In 2021, 74% of all suicides in the UK were men. Approximately one in eight men suffer from a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorders, yet it is estimated that the true number is much higher. These shocking statistics shine a light upon the silent pandemic of male mental health, one which is claiming more lives of men under the age of 45 than any other cause. But even with so many men affected by this issue, why does it remain largely unspoken about in both the media and our day-to-day conversations?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is mainly due to patriarchal standards. Whether we realise it or not, we have been taught since birth that strength is synonymous with masculinity, and that for men, emotional and physical vulnerability is considered a weakness. This message is embedded in most aspects of our lives from the media we consume to the toys which we are given as children to the language which we use – after all, how many times have you told someone to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’? In contemporary society, men are subconsciously taught from birth that being a ‘proper’ man requires acting tough and internalising their emotions, no matter what they may be.
An important aspect of toxic masculinity which suppresses the discussion of male emotion is the legacy of ‘lad culture’. Rising to prominence in the 1990s in response to late twentieth century feminist movements, lad culture is defined by NUS as ‘a group or pack mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption and ‘banter’ which was sexist, misogynistic, or homophobic’. Through championing performative or derogatory actions such as excessive drinking and displays of aggression, lad culture dismisses and outwardly rebels against those that are associated with feminism, which includes supporting societal equality or talking about your emotions or mental health. Mob mentalities are different to rebel against due to the threat of ostracization and so easily perpetuate damaging stereotypes that harm more people than they help. Just as it is important that we raise awareness of the ways in which lad culture can be damaging for women, we must also remember that men are also affected by the same expectations in different yet equally as insidious ways.
Whilst the issues perpetuated by lad culture affect those of all ages, the concept is particularly pertinent to students and young adults. Lad culture permeates most aspects of university life, from socialising to sport, and creates a sense of pressure to lead a certain lifestyle centred around alcohol and going out. A recent survey conducted by the Priory Group found that one in four students are too afraid to disclose their mental health struggles to their friends or their peers due to the risk of being mistreated or viewed differently, and that 83% believe that these anxieties arise due to the social stigma surrounding mental health. Statistics such as these reveal both the reality of this issue concerning our demographic and a vital need for change.
Over the past month you’ve probably noticed a lot more men sporting moustaches than usual, a choice influenced by Movember. Founded in the early 2000s, Movember is centred around raising awareness of the most prominent issues affecting men’s physical and mental health: testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and suicide prevention. Whilst moustaches provide a memorable visual reminder of the importance of men’s physical and mental health, the movement also aims to raise money for men’s charities, invest in global initiatives, and start important conversations about these issues. Since its creation, Movember has funded over 1,250 projects and worked with 20 men’s health partners in 20 countries.
As highlighted by Movember, the most effective way to tackle the silent pandemic is to dismantle toxic masculinity and rebel against the values which it perpetuates, especially those pertaining to male mental health. We can do this in our own lives by supporting the movement, facilitating an open and honest dialogue surrounding mental health and creating space for the men in our lives to feel comfortable talking about their emotions.
Contribute to Loughborough University’s Movember campaign here.
Header designed by Sarim Mangi – Head of Design