Men’s Mental Health in the UK
Men’s mental health has been gaining traction amongst the media, but there’s still a long way to go.
Did you know that men are three times more likely to die by suicide, than women? Men aged 40-49 have the highest rate of suicide in the UK. Worryingly, men are less likely to access professional, medical care than women. Just 36 percent of referrals for NHS therapies are for men. Men’s mental health is a massive issue and it’s not going anywhere.
Ask people how to address this imbalance and you’ll be met with myriad answers. There are plenty of charities and support services available, but it can be hard to ask for help. Some of the most accessible are peer support groups.
With this in mind, we caught up with Andy Bishop, Ex-Forces and founder of ManGang, a peer support group dedicated to men’s mental health, which champions the belief that “It’s Not Weak To Speak”.
Coping with depression
During his time in the Armed Forces, Andy battled ongoing depression, each episode worse than the last. Andy said “I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn’t tell my bosses or my colleagues, I couldn’t let anyone down.” It’s a sentiment shared by many, particularly in male-dominated work environments like the military.
The cycle of depression worsened, but Andy kept ignoring it, determined to carry on with life as best he could. With an ever-changing rota of therapists, and medication that turned him into a “zombie, for literally four years,” it wasn’t an easy road to ‘recovery’ and Andy’s struggles didn’t end there. As anyone with mental health issues knows, progress is never linear. After leaving the army in 2012 and facing a slew of challenges adjusting to civilian life, things spiralled.
No one is immune to mental illness and it can rear its ugly head when least expected. Left reeling by a friend’s shock suicide, Andy couldn’t understand why his friend hadn’t reached out. Ultimately, it came down to one thing: “the stigma associated with mental health.” The culture of silence is a pervasive one, particularly in male-dominated industries and it’s a culture Andy is committed to overcoming.
The story of ManGang
ManGang’s inception wasn’t immediate. It was only through sharing his own experience with mental illness, in the course of his work, leading training courses in the construction industry, that Andy realised how much his story resonated with other people.
Talking about the first time he opened up, in a bid to fill 30 minutes up before lunch, Andy recalls thinking “what are you doing? These blokes are going to take the mick out of you and lose all respect for you.” What actually happened, was that Andy didn’t get a lunch break. Or a tea break. He ended up doing an extra hour of work. The men kept coming up, saying they were feeling the same and asking what they should do. In sharing his own story, Andy “held up a mirror to them”.
Then one day, at a football match in Brighton, Andy was caught off guard by a man running towards him. Disconcerting to say the least. Even more disconcerting, when the man threw his arms around Andy, whispering “thank you”. Then it clicked. It was one of the men from the course. The man confided he’d been “thinking about doing myself in”, until Andy shared his story, which prompted him to speak to his wife and Doctor. It was then that Andy realised the “power in sharing this story.” Every time Andy shared his story, it encouraged conversation and encouraging conversation is vital when it comes to men’s mental health.
Launching peer support sessions
With this in mind, Andy posted on social media asking for advice on starting a men’s peer support group in 2019. Andy was met with a deluge of negative messages, claiming the market was saturated and that he had no qualifications. Buried in amongst the negativity though, was “a message from a builder I’d taught previously and it had three words in it: “I need help”. So that was the launch of ManGang.” Andy held his first session the next night. No one turned up, or rather, no one mustered the courage to go in; but Andy persevered. The next week twelve men turned up and the rest is history.
With three venues around Southampton and various virtual sessions (currently three to four a week on Zoom), ManGang has gone from strength to strength, helping around four hundred men. Attracting men from all different backgrounds, from 18 to 71, ManGang unites men struggling with their mental health. It also welcomes men with addiction problems, who are lonely, or having a bad time at work. It is not exclusively for people with severe mental health issues. Speaking about ManGang’s role in relation to mental health service, Andy says “we don’t try to fix people, we just share experiences”. I suspect that’s why ManGang is able to help so many people. Sometimes you just need someone to listen, not try to fix you. That’s the wonderful thing about peer support groups like ManGang, they can reach men who wouldn’t seek help otherwise.
When asked what advice he has for other sufferers, Andy urges others to: “keep on keeping on, no matter how hard the struggle is, as long as you keep moving it will get better, nothing is forever”.
Stay safe and if you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s Not Weak To Speak. Men’s mental health matters.
If you, or someone you know, are struggling, you can find out more about ManGang here.
Want to help, but don’t know how? Learn more about Mental Health First Aid here.
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