Meet the people in Leeds tackling the taboo surrounding male mental health
Suicide is the biggest killer in men under 35
Disclaimer: this post contains reference to suicide.
On average, 2.5 percent of men in the UK are suffering from one of the most common mental health disorders, and just over three out of every four suicides in the UK are male. The stigma surrounding male mental health is high, and nobody seems to want to talk about it.
To try and combat the taboo, The Tab Leeds spoke to some of the support on offer in Leeds to find out more about what they do and what type of services are available for men suffering in silence.
We spoke to a member of Andy's Man Club, who will be referred to as "Joe" for the purpose of anonymity, about his experiences.
After a second failed open skull surgery to fix issues caused by Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome – a condition that severely affects hearing and balance – Joe found himself feeling abandoned by a system that he trusted.
He pleaded with the surgeon to re-scan his skull base to find out why the surgery had failed twice, but there was nothing the hospital could do for him.
Joe said: "I was at the end of my rope. I was lost and didn't know what to do."
As a result of the failed surgery, Joe was unable to perform the simplest of tasks. He was forced to leave his successful job, and was unable to provide a stable income for his wife and three boys.
"I felt guilty for not being able to continue as the breadwinner, the thoughtful husband, or the fun-to-be-with Dad. I was distraught and in turmoil; I had nowhere else to turn.
"So, on the evening of Friday 13th November 2015, I took out one of my target shooting rifles and shot myself in my right temple."
After Joe's attempted suicide, he had emergency brain surgery and a week in intensive care before being visited by the on-call psychiatrist. He was released with an appointment to see the Leeds Mental Health Team.
"When the appointment eventually arrived, I attended. They sat me down and asked why I'd been referred [with] questions like: 'Did the voices make me shoot myself? Did I see people that no-one else could see?'"
After 10 minutes of idiotic questions she announced that I would be discharged from their care as I didn't fit into any of their profile boxes, and as such I was ok to go it alone."
What happened to Joe next will be a familiar story to most that have tried to access support through the NHS.
"I went straight home and made an appointment with my GP, who just shook her head in disbelief, and referred me again. Nothing happened.
"I went back after three months of waiting, and she referred me again. After another four months, I received an appointment for ten sessions of CBT at the LGI (Leeds General Infirmary).
"By the sixth session, I was told that CBT would only work for me once my physical symptoms were resolved."
Joe self-referred himself to Manchester Royal, which was recommended to him by fellow SCDS sufferers for treatment of his condition. He was thoroughly tested and received the correct treatment for his physical condition.
Throughout his treatment, Joe said support from Leeds [hospital] for his mental well-being was not forthcoming, and that it took the head of Psychiatry at Manchester, to get Leeds to prescribe him the correct medication.
After feeling let down by the system, Joe took it upon himself to find his own help and support. He found it first at the charity Leeds Mind, and subsequently at Andy's Man Club.
"The club has literally been the lifeline to my future. In combination with the correct medication, I started to realise that I actually could look toward a future.
"I’d found this group of like-minded lads, each with their own individual issues and stories to tell, yet each willingly supporting one another without judgement, prejudice, or question.
From the moment I first walked through the door, I was welcomed like a brother."
Joe said that attending meetings helped him regain his inner voice and self-belief over time. He now attends the group as a Facilitator – somebody that helps new members settle into the group.
Luckily, Joe is still here today to tell us about his experience, but there are many who aren't.
Andy's Man Club
Andy's Man Club was founded by Elaine Roberts and Luke Ambler, relatives of Andy Roberts, a 23 year old rugby player and father of one who took his own life in 2016.
The club now has branches all across the UK, and it aims to halve the rate of suicide by men under 45.
The #ITSOKTOTALK campaign has gained public support from celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, pictured below.
Mental health problems account for 23% of the burden of illness in the United Kingdom, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11% of the NHS budget, meaning that its severely underfunded to support those in need.
When asked about why he felt like he couldn't speak to anyone before, Joe said: "I was 100 per cent afraid of letting everybody down by not being able to continue working – including my wife and three boys.
How could I admit that I was physically and mentally broken? What would they think of me? Would they be as ashamed of me as I was of myself?"
A 2016 survey found that around 34 per cent of men would be embarrassed or ashamed to take time off work for mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, and 38 per cent would be worried that their employer would think badly of them if they took time off work for reasons of mental health.
Typically, men won't open up about their problems. Consciously or unconsciously, we've had this idea of being a 'man' drilled into us from birth, the idea that a display of emotion is somehow a weakness, and having your own problems should be a burden to bear alone.
Joe now knows this to be a harmful ideal to hold, and is encouraging others to speak out.
"Talk to someone! Talk to anybody else who will listen; your GP, your boss, your best friend, or take a step through the door of an Andy's Mans Club.
"Sometimes it is easier to pour your heart out to a small group of strangers who actually want to listen.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the club is a cure-all; it's not. But it gives you a secure foundation on which you can begin to build your inner strength back up to a point where – with the right support – you can finally take back control of your life."
Support through both the NHS and university counselling can be spread thin sometimes, and it can feel as though you're alone.
The transition from youth to adulthood, particularly during university, is one of the toughest times in your life – so talking to someone and finding the support you need is essential in making it through.
"Taking the first step through that door to meet other members of Andy's Man Club could do you more good than any amount of textbooks could ever provide," Joe added.
"The club offers contact with good, honest, supportive guys who are there not just for themselves, but to provide whatever help and advice they can to anyone who feels they are struggling.
"You won't be judged or ridiculed, and if you feel that your problems seem insignificant compared to the problems of others – you're wrong!
"It's all about context and perspective; a grain of salt looks like a mountain when you're really up close to it – but joining our band of brothers will help you to slowly take a few steps back at a time.
You have nothing to lose – but everything to gain."
If you are struggling and need to reach out, here are a list of services you can use:
Andy's Man Club
Meetings every Monday at 7pm at Leeds College of Building North Street Leeds LS2 7QT
• email: [email protected]
Talk to someone for free at any time via Samaritans: Call 116123 or visit their website to find alternatives ways of talking to someone.