Reece Parker: Time to talk about men’s mental health

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Among the regular turmoil surrounding fees and teaching quality upon university campuses, there is a much more harrowing sensation which runs right through the student experience, the increase of depression and mental health issues.

Special circumstances requests are skyrocketing nationwide, more than four in ten students reported suffering panic attacks at Ulster University whilst almost a third said they had suicidal thoughts, and nine students have taken their own life across Bristol’s universities in 18 months.

Deteriorating mental health is not only endemic in student populations, it also is suffered across all male demographics.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but this is merely the most extreme manifestation of these underlying issues. Our perception of what a man should be, which has been imprinted on us from our day of birth, has damaged every male in some sense or other.

From being told as a child that ‘boys don’t cry’, to the social pressure to provide financial and emotional stability to immediate family as an adult, males are forced into a culture of ever-increasing emotional suppression and alienation. For those who are both male and in study, this bind is doubled.

It is perceiving this culture of damage which prompted Leeds Rhinos’ own Stevie Ward to found Mantality Magazine, a media source which believed that the key to solving this was through genuine, open connection between men. Moreover, it is this ethos which prompted the first ‘Mantality Retreat’, run in co-operation with men’s coach Craig White, which I was lucky enough to attend this past weekend.

As someone who has always been particularly sceptical towards anything which even gestures towards spiritualism, I entered this weekend expecting a few amusing stories and a social media detox.

What I instead found was a deep respect for the 11 other men who joined me and beyond, and a real sense of urgency to change the way in which we engage with eachother. Just through imagining an alternative, better form of masculinity which didn’t restrict your ability to open up, we spoke to eachother about everything from niggling day-to-day issues, to deep rooted emotional traumas. Whilst everyone’s story was different, we all walked back out into the world with a renewed sense of purpose and energy. Men’s mental health has stayed in the dark for too long. Our failure to communicate our problems has damaged our society, damaged our interpersonal relationships, and damaged ourselves. This can be undone only through opening up about what makes us who we are. These things start with yourself, and so I, with the two other student attendees of the retreat, will be endeavouring to begin our own male student group.

If we can convince another group of 12 to speak up, we could potentially save lives.

Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.