By Conor Johnson
‘The single biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide. In 2016, there were 5668 recorded in Great Britain. Of these, 75% were male.’ These are the words accompanying the countless selfies of young men with their fingers in the ‘OK’ symbol that have been bombarding your timelines for the last couple of weeks, but what is the #It’sOkNotToBeOk campaign?
At first glance, the campaign is composed of a single post, copied and pasted, highlighting the issue of mental health amongst men. This campaign is part of a much wider trend in mental health discourse whereby the focus is aimed largely at a specific demographic.
One of the reasons this shift has occurred is simply because of what the numbers say.
The increase in funding for mental health care in the UK is hugely important; however, ultimately we each have a responsibility to do more.
A quick google reveals that of those accessing psychological therapies, only 36% are men. Likewise, 53% of men suffering from mental health problems are concerned that if they were to take a day off from work, their boss would think badly of them, and 46% of men with mental health issues are embarrassed. Herein lies the problem.
If men are embarrassed by their mental health problems then how are they going to talk about it?
Sure, there has been a push for institutions to do more, but if men think that taking a day off to deal with anxiety or depression might be looked on poorly then how do we expect them to feel about going to an official therapist to discuss it?
The answer to why men commit suicide more than women is made more shocking when one considers women are, statistically at least, more likely to suffer from poor mental health. Yet of 6,233 suicides in 2013 only 22% were women. This begs the question: why are men more likely to take their own life than women? One of the answers to this is toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is one of those phrases that has become more widely used in recent years, especially in the context of mental health. It is related to the proportion of men feeling embarrassed by their mental health or thinking their bosses would think badly of them were they to take a day off for their mental wellbeing.
The culture of masculinity is such that men simply get on with the day, are not encouraged to talk about their feelings from a young age like girls are, and are told that ‘boys don’t cry’.
The #It’sOkNotToBeOk campaign is a symbol to your friends, your brothers, boyfriends or even sons that you are accepting and open to discussing those things that affect many of us behind closed doors
When young boys try to voice their discontent or unhappiness, it isn’t met with the same level of understanding as when girls do so. This behaviour extends into adult life, with men feeling less comfortable talking to their friends about problems that they may be facing, opting instead to suffer in silence.
If young men won’t talk about their feelings with their friends then how likely are they to go to an office at their workplace or university to do so?
The increase in funding for mental health care in the UK is hugely important; however, ultimately we each have a responsibility to do more. By reaching out to our friends and encouraging each other to talk about mental health on a personal, rather than professional level, we can help break down the stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
This is why the #It’sOkNotToBeOk challenge is so important. It is a symbol to your friends, your brothers, boyfriends or even sons that you are accepting and open to discussing those things that affect many of us behind closed doors, that you are there for your friends. I believe it is this that will make the greatest impact.
Photograph: Max Pixel via Creative Commons