Men are talking and it's not just football

I read in the paper today that President Trump’s proposed import tariffs on foreign goods imported to the USA had now come into effect, and that one of the main casualties of the tariff is the steel we manufacture here in the N.E of England.

This instantly reminded me of another article about the incidence of suicides of men in the N.E. of England. Middlesborough, a town built on the production of steel has the highest rate of suicide in England, almost double the national average and almost three quarters of those suicides are men.

Middlesborough’s steel industry was always a man’s world. At one plant alone, which didn’t even have a women’s toilet, there were 3,000 men.

This was an environment where men were men and it wouldn’t be ok to talk, where men would go to the pub or club to talk about football, but that was all.

The closure of steel plants and the resultant redundancies since the 1990’s has had a huge financial impact on these men and on their mental health.

The once prosperous nearby towns of Redcar and Stockton apparently are similarly affected.

This belief in that culture that men are men and of men having to be the breadwinners, having to be strong and the support of everything, is leading to them being overwhelmed by life and into depression, and as one interviewee in a recent article said, ”it was get help or you attempted suicide”. So in such a deprived area, where was the help going to come from?

I was heartened to read that there was a recognition there that the NHS does not have the funds or the on the ground resources to provide the help that is needed and that they had to help themselves. As a result, groups of men in these three deprived towns have got together to try and do just that. They are meeting in cafes and just getting together to talk, have bit of a laugh and realise they have all been going through similar things, some worse than others. They are not just those who worked in the steel industry; they come from other backgrounds too but they all say that these opportunities to share how they are feeling about their problems, although not solving them, provides a chance to relieve some of the burden and to feel less overwhelmed.

As one participant said, “I felt so much better at the end, so much more hopeful”.

There are other initiatives around the country specifically focused on helping men such as The Lions Barber Collective, as well as an Ai initiative called SU, a programme designed to “help men survive the changes of an ever changing world”, hoping to reduce the number of male suicides.

There has never been a better time for men to feel able to talk about things that would have previously been viewed by them as evidence of weakness and a cause of shame. Men’s mental health is out there now, top of the mental health agenda, getting the recognition it deserves and prompting men to seek out the help they so badly need. There is now time and space for the conversations to begin.

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