Why Men's Mental Health is a Feminist Issue
As I explain why I am travelling the UK and Europe, in a campervan with my dog, I can see her frown growing deeper, “But why men? Girls suffer more,” she asks, dripping with an accusatory tone.
She’s not wrong.
In England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Yet, in the UK, men remain three times as likely to take their own lives than women. In 2014, a total of 6,122 suicides were recorded in the UK. This equates to approximately one death every two hours. Of these, 76% were male and 24% were female. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45. That means a man under 45 years of age is more likely to die by suicide than cancer, road accidents or heart disease.
Something is going seriously wrong with our boys and it is only human to want to know the why behind those devastating statistics.
For me, however, it runs much deeper than that. In a class of 30 children, three will have a diagnosable mental health problem. Within this group, almost 6% of children will have a conduct disorder, which is twice as common among boys as girls. As a result, boys are three times more likely to receive a permanent or fixed exclusion than girls.
Children excluded from school and within the youth justice system are predominately drawn from the poorest and most disadvantaged families. 60% have significant speech, language or communication difficulties, around a quarter have a learning disability, and one third of young people in custody have a mental health disorder. This is three times higher than the general population.
Staggeringly, just a measly 0.7% of the NHS budget is spent on children’s mental health. It is little wonder then, that 72% of children released from custody go on to re-offend within one year or that overall, 95% of the prison population in the UK is male.
Women are more commonly the victims of domestic abuse, which accounts for around one-third of violence recorded by the police. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends.
That is your average joe, not some mystical masked monster grabbing women from the street. This is happening in homes. Daily. Everywhere. All the time.
Harvey Weinstein’s exposure and the subsequent #metoo movement has undeniably caused a much needed international conversation around toxic masculinity, gender power dynamics, sexism and dangerously acceptable cultural norms.
Women haven’t just found their voice, we are beginning to be heard.
For real sustainable change to happen, however, men need to listen, even the “good ones,” to examine their own behaviour and beliefs before beginning to change too.
The need to move away from toxic lad culture and dressing-room banter is clear but I don’t believe young men can do this without help, without guidance, without positive role models to show them what it means to be a man in the 21st century. We need to create an inclusive masculinity where kindness and empathy is seen as a strength and this, I believe, is inextricably linked to men’s mental health.
So my sister, when you ask, “why men?” know that I carry all 102 million little girls with me, trying in my own small way, to make the world a little kinder for them and for all those girls who will follow.