Mental health awareness week: make time for a curry and a chaat …

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (14-20 May). This year the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging us to get together for a ‘curry and a chaat.’    

In addition to being a trans-lingual play on words gathering together with your mates to have a curry and a couple of drinks is thought to appeal across genders but not least for men. Increasingly, it is becoming more and more important for men to open-up about what’s going on in our heads. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, yet men find it harder to talk about their emotions.  

A year ago the Mental Health Foundation surveyed over 2,500 people who had experienced mental health problems and found that only a quarter of men asked had told a friend of family member what they had been going through. More than a third waited up to two years. 28% of men had not sought any help at all for their mental health problem.     

This emotional reticence is almost certainly a by-product of the conventional male role. According to mental health boffin Joseph Vandello, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, there are two masculine ideals: procreator and protector. Conventional conceptions with which most of us have grown up dictate that men are meant to look after families, whether that be financially as the main breadwinner, or by making sure that everything is under control. Control is demonstrated by being the strong, silten, reserved ‘alpha male’ who doesn’t express feelings openly. Men are ‘supposed’ to be strong, dominant, and silent.

But while the world has changed a great deal. The role of the modern male is not what is was. In particular ‘male jobs’ in the mines, the factories and the farms, often no longer exist. Men in many parts of the UK lack regular work while women work and provide much of the household income. But while the world has moved on human beings don’t evolve so quickly. Theorists have even linked this change of balance to the alienation that aided the vote to leave the European Union.

We need a change in societal conditions to get men admitting when things aren’t quite right. The beermat campaign run by Time to Change has been widely applauded for its attempts to reach out to men to encourage them to get talking about mental health. With taglines like “Is there a mate missing around the table? Reach out to him”, and “If your mate’s acting differently, it could be a sign of a mental health problem - Reach out, Be Yourself, Do What You Love Together” They have been sent to pubs and bars all around the UK to help spark possibly life-saving conversations. If more men get chatting with their mates, more men will start to see that they’re not alone.

Maybe sometime we can all get to a point where being strong does not mean going it alone. In the meantime the work of mental health awareness will continue.