International Men's Day: Let's talk about the bigger issues
Today is International Men's Day and I'm ashamed to admit I had no idea until Tuesday when I learned about the #biggerissues campaign from CALM* and Lynx to raise awareness of male suicide in the run up to the day itself. Male suicide is the biggest killer of guys under 45 in the UK. Just take a minute to digest that. This means 12 men commit suicide each day. That's one every TWO hours. It's difficult to even comprehend.
This a topic close to my heart. I lost my uncle to suicide just over five years ago and it's without a doubt the most devastating experience of my life. What I find harder to stomach is that in 2014, suicide figures were the second highest they have been in 15 years. This means an extraordinary high number of men are losing their lives and even more people are experiencing the horrific grief that comes with losing a family member or friend from suicide. And yet we aren't talking about it. We aren't doing the very thing that might actually save their lives.
We are passionately focused on feminism and empowering women in the UK (and rightly so - I still believe we have a long way to go until we reach equality) but has this meant that men's issues have got swept under the carpet? Why is it that we aren't shouting from the rooftops and putting our all effort into tackling the biggest killer of males under 45? As a society we seem to shy away from it. Believing it is a taboo topic, or perhaps that we simply lack the vocabulary or skills to offer support or comfort to those contemplating or having been affected by suicide.
A lot of the time, you can help just by listening. By being there and by talking about the issue openly and without judgement. By giving men a space to talk about their feelings. It's not taboo, it's not something to ignore or turn a blind eye to. It's not something to be ashamed of. Suicide is real and it's killing our dads, brothers, uncles, sons, friends. It needs more airtime and we need to stop being afraid of it and start providing better services for those at risk of suicide.
I have a huge amount of respect for charities like CALM and brands such as Lynx and Topman who are backing major campaigns to try to break the stigma surrounding (male) suicide. These are the kinds of partners and influencers that have a huge role to play in helping us 'normalise' talking about suicide (and it pains me that we have to campaign to make it a part of our day to day conversations). Brands have the power to reach those in at risk groups and make a fundamental change to their behaviour, as well as the behaviour of everybody else. But we, yes you and me, also have the immense power to make arguably an even bigger difference to thousands of our men, just by talking. That's it. All you have to do is talk about it.
The #biggerissues advertising campaign uses digital poster sites across London to feature a variety of trivial topics that are more talked about than male suicide. These update every two hours in real time to reflect the fact that a male takes his life every two hours in the UK. It has reached over 23 million people. It's a fantastic campaign and one that I shared on my own Instagram feed. I was heartened at the overwhelming positive response I received. Highlighting just how easy it is to talk about the #biggerissues.
*CALM works to prevent male suicide in the UK through a variety of services and by campaigning for changes in policy that will make a difference to service provision for males at risk of suicide.