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Starting the conversation

If you are wondering why there is a dramatic increase in moustachiod men roaming around with a distinct set of handlebars, or perhaps a signature goatee, it is all in aid of a good cause – Movember, which encourages men to grow some facial hair to help raise awareness for men’s health in November, including cancers, and mental health.

The latter is particularly key. Suicide in men is the leading cause of death among men under 45. For generations, mental health has been largely brushed under the carpet, with men’s mental health in particular suffering as a result. Men’s mental health charities and foundations partly attribute this to deep societal gender prejudices which have become utterly entrenched, meaning that many men feel unable to come forward and talk about any personal demons they are battling. A conversation which needs to be normalised if change is to happen.

According to the Samaritans, men are more than three times as likely to die from suicide than women, and the highest suicide rate in the UK was for men aged 45-49.

These stats are astonishing and show just common to feel a certain way. What’s more, men’s mental health doesn’t discriminate according to background, social standing, race or sexuality, it affects all. And these deaths are also utterly avoidable, as Poorna Bell, award-winning journalist and mental health campaigner puts it: “Suicide is a wholly preventable death – no one is born wanting to die. If these deaths are preventable, then an urgent, regular conversation needs to happen about how we can effectively tackle this.”

The conversation, and campaigns like Movember that exist to quash any stigma surrounding men’s mental health and has raised a spectacular £134 million in doing so, has meant that the stats are drastically improving as mental health emerges into the public psyche. Among the above facts which are nothing short of horrifying, there is one beacon of hope - the Office for National Statistics reported back in September 2018 that suicide rates among men in the UK were at their lowest for more than 30 years.

This figure is encouraging, and reflects a wider movement to keep the conversation open about mental health. While it may be too late to grow an enviable ‘tache this month, there is plenty that you can do to do for the cause, from donating money with a one-off contribution to just reaching out to a friend. Aside from the obvious, the Movember Foundation suggest hosting a ‘mo-ment’ to do your bit. This could means organising a get-together with friends where you cook up a feast, organise a sports match, or anything where you can get together with friends and donate along the way.

How to act to help a friend
If you suspect a friend is going through a tough time, they may not easily open up, and so your responsibility lies in reaching out. The Movember Foundation suggests firstly preparing for a tough conversation before broaching the topic. Make sure you yourself are in a good state of mind and make sure the time you choose is one where you have the time to listen and devote yourself. Ask yourself if you are prepared for the answer to be bad. It can be hard listening to the plight of those you care about, and so looking after yourself too is of course of significance. Remember to be yourself – your friend is not expecting you to be offering medical advice, and the relationship between you is what is the bonding reassuring bridge here. Think about where you are conducting this conversation – getting out to nature can be good option.

Next, start by asking the question and don’t be put off if he tries to avoid your queries. Think about how you can rephrase and ask about specific things in his life that may be at the root cause of his mood change. After reaching out, listening is the next step. Don’t attempt to diagnose his problems, your role at this point is to be all ears. Next, encourage action by exploring options he may have or resources that are available to him and reassure that there is no shame in continuing this conversation with other close members of family, partners or doctors. Finally, keep in touch and check in. Set a reminder to catch up in person at a later date.

If you are struggling to cope, talking to bodies like the Samaritans could just be the difference. The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 123. Alternatively, fantastic charities like Mind, Rethink, and many others offer regional peer support groups, with organisations that create safe spaces to meet like-minded people where you can simply open up.