November 19th marks International Men’s Day, with Positive Male Role Models as the 2018 theme.

The campaign lays out its objectives as focussing on men’s and boy’s health; improving gender relations; promoting gender equality and highlighting positive male role models.

In celebration of the achievements of our inspirational founders and the challenges they have overcome in bringing mental health to the fore of workplace discussions, we spoke to Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn about the significance of this special day.

Jonny:

Q. Why do you think that International Men’s Day is important?

A. I think that the statistics speak for themselves:

  • 75% of suicides in the U.K. are men (ONS)
  • 73% of missing adults are men (University of York)
  • 87% of rough sleepers are men (Crisis)
  • 95% of the prison population are men (House of Commons Library)

We are failing our men as a society, I believe. This is why IMD is so important.

Q. This year’s theme is Male Role Models. Do you aspire to be a role model and what do you feel you can achieve? 

A. I aspire to be a role model for young people by always being open and honest about my mental health. I never had that type of male role model when I was growing up and I think it’s extremely important for young boys (and girls) to see adult males showing vulnerability if they’re struggling. If youngsters know it’s ok to suffer with your mental health, and ask for help, it could make a massive difference for our next generation.

Q. In your opinion what are the greatest challenges facing young males in the UK currently?

A. We still have a “macho culture” where men feel it’s not appropriate for them to struggle with their thoughts and feelings. We need more male role-models, particularly in the public eye, to be honest when they are struggling. Personally, I’d like to see more sports figures, especially footballers, be courageous by opening up about their vulnerabilities. More men are now opening up all around us which is wonderful, but we still have a long way to go.

Q. Do you feel that mental health in young men is being addressed effectively in the UK by the government or by private organisations or charities?

A. I think mental health in general is not being addressed effectively by the government. Young men though are particularly suffering as a result. We know that only 36% of referrals to mental health specialists in the U.K. are men (IAPT). We also know there is an extremely high drop rate for men who are within mental health services. The government must look toward designing a mental health system which is more aligned with and appealing to the needs of our male population.

Q. Do you feel that workplaces are equipped to deal with mental health needs of young men?

A. I believe we are making some progress in this area but that we still have some way to go. A lot of men we speak to in corporates don’t know where to go if and when they need support. There needs to be much better signposting within workplaces. Another issue is the stigma attached to mental health, particularly for men, which stops many from coming forward and opening up at work. Once again, we need more male role models, particularly business leaders, to be open about their wellbeing whilst at work.

Q. Do you think these awareness days have a meaningful impact? 

A. I think awareness days are a valuable tool, particularly for companies, to address certain topics such as mental health within the workplace. We’re seeing awareness days and weeks being used in this way much more recently.

Q. Who do you think are the most powerful male role models in history? (present company excluded!)

A. There are so many to choose from! Nelson Mandela is a particular role model of mine. His courage, determination, and faith in the face of adversity is exemplary to us all. My Dad is another role model for me. He’s worked extremely hard his entire life and been very successful and yet has always managed to put family first. He’s also been an incredible support to me throughout my journey with mental illness.

Neil:

Q. Why do you think that International Men’s Day is important?

A. When we do talks on mental health in companies, usually the majority of attendees are female – raising awareness of mental health around International Men’s Day is important for us as it means there is a tangible reason for men to connect to this important topic and for businesses to raise.

Q. This year’s theme is Male Role Models. Do you aspire to be a role model and what do you feel you can achieve? 

A. I feel we are currently role modelling, we have been now talking about men’s mental health for nearly the past 5 years together and have had some really great feedback from the males as saying that our campaigning and awareness has inspired them to do more to help men with their mental health.

I think we are contributing to saving men’s lives by encouraging men to talk more and we will continue to do so.

Q. In your opinion what are the greatest challenges facing young males in the UK currently?

A. Still the stigma about having to be tough and not show vulnerability, that’s always a big one.

I love the work Movember do around male suicide, prostate cancer and testicular cancer, all 3 of these topics have very real links to men’s mental health and we think about improving the lives of men in all aspects, their mental health is often a barrier to getting help in many areas of life because of the stigma about men having to be tough and not show weakness.

Also homelessness, this topic again has huge links back to men’s mental health and the prevalence for not seeking early help and early intervention.

Q. Do you feel that mental health in young men is being addressed effectively in the UK by the government or by private organisations or charities?

AI don’t know of any transformational government reforms within men’s mental health. Some individuals we know in parliament, MPs and councillors, are themselves individually passionate about this topic, as far as a joined up approach, I don’t know if the government has a niche authority in this area.

Private organisations and charities are doing more. I mentioned Movember, along with CALM, suicide first aid, the young royals, and we see more and more that companies are engaging especially with men’s health and mental health support organisations like these to help their own workforce.

Q. Do you feel that workplaces are equipped to deal with mental health needs of young men?

A. Across the board, I’d say that workplaces are just at the beginning of this journey, some better than others, the more campaigning and awareness that can take place the more companies will realise that men have their very own set of specific issues regarding mental health and make more tailored provisions to support this.

Much of mental health help in the workforce is very generalised. Although there are some great resources, I think the support organisations could assist buy advising more about how to get men involved in workplace initiatives when engaging with companies.

Q. Do you think these awareness days have a meaningful impact? 

A. Absolutely, without them there would be no awareness and this is the first step to tackling any issue – the more awareness the better!

Q. Who do you think are the most powerful male role models in history? (present company excluded!)

A. My personal ones are Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger (I used to be personal trainer so no surprise there). They give a great example of how to be self-confident and take a mindset approach of positivity in the face of adversity.

More off the beaten track, my dad, John Laybourn, was my greatest male role model in my life, I think having a grounded and responsible parents is a key part attribute to my personal mental health.

About the author

Zoe Sinclair is the founder of Employees Matter, the largest provider of employee engagement seminars and webinars in the UK.

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