Although a significant percentage of men suffer from mental health issues, many do so in silence. In the UK, 12.5% of men suffered from one of the Common Mental Disorders ("CMD") such as depression or anxiety in the past week. Three times as many men as women die by suicide. Men also report significantly lower life satisfaction than women, particularly those aged 45 to 59.
A closer look shows that CMDs vary by ethnicity. Those identifying as Black and Black-British in the UK were more likely than average to have experienced a CMD in the past week. Data from 2007 and 2014 surveys showed that young Black and Black-British men are around 11 times as likely as young White men to be diagnosed with major psychiatric conditions.
Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint the exact causes, traditional masculine and community values are likely to contribute to these problems.
Talking about mental health is frequently seen as a weakness amongst men, especially so in B.A.M.E. groups. We are often expected to be the breadwinners as well as showing resilience in our professional and private lives. As a result, we are often not comfortable opening up and showing vulnerability, especially with regard to mental health concerns. At the same time, we may suffer from stigma around mental health within our own communities.
The pandemic significantly exacerbated mental health concerns across the board.
Gurbir Thethy kindly agreed to share his experience of the issues he has faced dealing with CMD over the last two years.
I live in a one-bedroom shoebox in South-East London. I've never, as a rule, worked from home. Even if I did, I would be in my local greasy spoon (of course observing strict GDPR and Information Security guidelines at all times!). So long as I kept buying coffee and cakes, they were happy for me to use their wifi and electricity. I didn't have a desk or a work chair at home. My rule had always been to keep work and home separate.
So, when the email arrived on 16th March 2020 advising those of us who could work from home to do so for the foreseeable future, it came as a shock – as I'm sure it did to many. I suddenly found myself with my small garden table and chair in the corner of my flat. Organising a desk, chair and workstation was something new.
It wasn't until the winter 2020 lockdown that the walls started to close in on me. Sitting on my sofa in the evenings whilst watching television or reading, there would be my desk and monitor staring blackly at me." Why wasn't I working? What did I think I was doing not answering that email, reviewing that file? How dare I watch the latest Netflix boxset when I could be working?"
Of course, none of this was coming from DWF. It was all from my subconscious. As a child I had it drummed into me that I should be coping and working. That to show any chink in the armour was a failure of character. That I had to be seen to be standing up to all the slings and arrows that life may throw at me. I am a Sikh and we are warriors! I am a man and must be seen to be coping.
So, I kept on keeping on. However, as 2021 went on, it became more and more difficult to cope. As the autumn turned into winter I was overwhelmed by the thought of another winter such as I (and countless others) had endured…How would I cope? How could I cope?
Things went from bad to worse when in October I dislocated the same shoulder twice within six days ultimately requiring surgery. I was in a sling for many weeks and during that time, I found it increasingly difficult to sleep. So, one long sleepless night listening to the voices in my head turned into another. "You're an imposter Thethy, you're a failure, you're letting the community down". Until, well it all came to a head at the beginning of this year…I think I had probably been awake for 72 hours straight and the voices were getting louder and louder…I was in a complete state when I finally admitted to my then partner that I couldn't go on. Within a matter of hours, I was in a rehabilitation facility, where I stayed for the next four weeks being put back together.
The job isn't done yet needless to say. But, I now have the tools to continue the work. If I hadn't admitted that I needed help, that I could no longer rely on my own resilience, well… I dread to think where I would be.
It important is to admit that one needs help no matter what stage of your career you are in. I discovered that it is a sign of strength not weakness to do so.
A note on terminology.
Through this blog, we have used the terminology adopted by the ONS when referring to "those identifying as Black or Black-British".
Resources for support
Mind Charity: Mind empowers people to understand their condition and the choices available to them through their Infoline, which offers callers confidential help for the price price of a local call and their Legal Line, which provides information on mental health related law to the public, service users, family members/carers, mental health professionals and mental health advocates.
Samaritans: To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).
SANEline: SANEline. If you're experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).
Mental Health Statistics – House of Commons Library
Key Data: Mental Health – Men's Health Forum
Men's mental health 10 years on - Mind
If you have any questions or queries on this blog, please don't hesitate to reach out to Rishab Reitz.