Spalding-area MP says 'a lethal mix of sorrow, pressure and absence' are posing risks to men
In his weekly Hayes in the House column, MP John Hayes discusses Mental Health Awareness Month
November is male mental health awareness month. Many men and women at some point in their lives face anxiety, fear and depression. Most people who suffer with their mental health, if well treated, recover or can, at least, cope. Yet, for a small – but, sadly, not small enough – number, doubt turns to desperation. Tragically, somewhere in the world, one man dies by suicide every minute.
In the UK, the single biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide, with male deaths outnumbering those of women. It is a sad fact of modern life that, in the words of CALM, the men’s mental health charity, “if you’re a young man in Britain, the most likely thing to kill you, is you”. For those they leave – mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, siblings and friends, the pain lasts. For there is little harder with which to come to terms than someone you love killing themselves.
Mental health is not a uniquely modern malady. From cerebro-spinal shock during the Napoleonic Wars; shell shock during the First and Second World Wars, through to our era’s understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – to immense, often unspoken, peacetime pressure, men have always faced particular mental struggles.
However, the modern world, for all its conveniences, faces a shocking rise in desperation.
The cause of this tragic phenomena is impossible to explain precisely, complex as the human mind is, but we can identify a lethal mix of sorrow, pressure and absence of purpose - all posing undeniable risks to men.
The decline of the nuclear family - a source of precious stability and support throughout centuries, the toxic hostility and spite of the internet age, and age-old difficulties with expressing dark thoughts, all play a sinister part in this tragedy.
It is no exaggeration to call this a crisis, the untimely loss of so many lives could scarcely be called anything else. So, this month is a time to reflect on how the rising tide of mental ill-health can be rolled back. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated this dreadful trend, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, having found that many men aged 18-25 have been troubled by mental health for the first time during lockdown, warning of a resultant “tsunami of mental illness” to come as a result.
To encourage individuals to face their inner demons is not to say that every emotion or doubtful feeling must be analysed to preserve personal sanity. My parents generation, which lived through the tough times of the 1930’s depression, and then the Second World War, was of an age when people knew that many personal things are best left to introspection, and those that are not can often be settled through the wisdom, care and support of family, friends and neighbours.
As we encourage those who need help to discuss their troubles, and provide specialist skills to treat them, we must also build a society that fosters the fulfilling purpose, loving families and strong souls which enable us all to cope with the inevitable rigours of everyday life.
Poet John Donne said that “No man is an island”, and long after this month’s important campaign for wellness, we must strive to provide communities that care and a nation built on the defining principle that the fortunate have a God-given duty to care for those less so.