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How do we end the stigma around men's mental health?

Words by Abi Scaife

Mental health is often an uncomfortable topic - even for the most open of people. Particularly for Brits, we are conditioned to approach every ‘how are you?’ with a blasé ‘fine, alright, not so bad - and you?’ lest - oh the horror! - we reveal anything less than perfection.

For men in particular, society still promotes the idea that they must be stoic and somehow never struggle with their mental health. But of course, mental ill health affects everyone, whether it is something you’ve struggled with from birth, or it’s triggered by your experiences (or, more commonly, a combination of the two) - and men are no exception.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier for men to deal with their mental health struggles - if from birth you are told you shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t open up about how you’re feeling, how can you ever get help?

According to research done by the Priory Group, 40% of men won’t talk to family, friends or a professional about their mental health - while another 40% said it would take thoughts of suicide or self harm to approach a professional. Despite that, male suicide rates were almost four times higher than female suicide rates in 2022, according to the Samaritans.

On a mission to make that a distant memory, James’ Place is a charity that supports men experiencing a suicidal crisis in Liverpool and London.

“It's a life saving treatment,” says Dan Bracken, who is the head of James’ Place London centre. “It’s free, quick to access and we aim to cover as much of London as possible to see as many different men from different communities as we possibly can. That's our goal.”

James’ Place is a charity specifically aimed at men, and those who are experiencing a suicidal crisis. Since 2018, they have treated over 1,500 suicidal men, delivering over 7,500 therapy sessions, helping suicidal men to find hope.

“My family found James's Place, I went there quite soon after I left hospital.” explains Bailey, a young man who benefitted from James’ Place. Bailey struggled with his mental health for some time, until his family found James’ Place. “From from the receptionist, to Cassius the therapist … they were amazing.”

You can refer yourself to James’ Place - or, like Bailey, have someone do it for you - or you can be referred by the NHS. One of the most incredible parts of James’ Place is the waiting list - they don’t have one.

If you’re looking to see a therapist through the NHS, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 23% of people wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment. At James’ Place, they aim to have each man sitting in front of a therapist within a maximum of 48 working hours.

“We meet them at the door,” explains Dan. “We give them a cup of tea or coffee. They have a little bit of time to relax in a really nice, open, welcoming space. Then they’re seen by a therapist for a welcome session, and we would then be potentially seeing them for up to two months, to support them, to help them understand why they got there and how they're going to get through it.”

Once you’re seeing a therapist with James’ Place, the sessions last for around two months - between six and eight sessions - before you’re discharged. James’ Place isn’t about long-term therapy, it’s about helping men through an incredibly difficult time in their lives, when they are in the midst of a suicidal crisis.

“It's an ongoing challenge … and we know particularly that it’s because of deprivation. Poverty can be linked with higher suicide rates,” explains Dan. “We’re trying to think about those particular groups of men, for example, men in construction that really need help in seeking support, particularly around suicidal crisis.”

“It could be the first time somebody's opened up to a professional about it. And that makes an incredible difference just to speak it to say what's going on, and to be heard and understood.”

For Bailey, he began with sessions twice a week at James’ Place. The sessions are completely free, and they helped him to process his thoughts and feelings around his mental health struggles - and eventually helped him to open up.

“Quite often there were cards or tasks we would do, and then Cassius would make me take photos of the cards,” explains Bailey. “I kind of felt ‘oh, I've got this evidence from therapy’ and then I would show my family and my girlfriend. That helped me have a conversation with my family and tell them how it went what we talked about. Both my parents and girlfriend really benefited from that and then that benefited me just as much.”

While, of course, the ultimate goal is to help people with their mental health before they reach the point of a suicidal crisis, that can only happen by helping those who are struggling now. Since finishing his time at James’ Place, Bailey has been in a better place - and just a few days after speaking with Smiley News, went on to start a brand new job.

“Just talk to someone - I know that's such an easy thing to say,” says Bailey. “When you're feeling bad … and you're you go to bed thinking ‘I'm gonna feel even worse tomorrow’, and you might be lying next to someone you should talk to or tell, or living in the same house with someone. They're only going to help you, so talk to them. I haven't even taken my own advice - but I wish I did.”

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Re-Engage. This is a charity that is making life less lonely for thousands of older people every year, through volunteer-led activities. Find out more.

Campaign to End Loneliness. This charity campaigns to make sure that people most at risk of loneliness are reached and supported. Support them here.

Marmalade Trust. This is a charity dedicated to raising awareness of loneliness and helping people make new friendships. Find out more and support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

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