Continuing the focus after Men's Mental Health Month

We have focused on men’s mental health all November. We’ve told men’s stories, shared tips for looking after your mental health, shared the sobering statistics and topics about mental health, and invited you to support our work.

As the month draws to a close, we wanted to share a little bit more about the work we do, and how it reaches men.

Any approach to mental health that’s going to work must be adapted to the audience – one size doesn’t fit all, whether it’s mental health services, campaigning messages, or community resources. We’ve been working for nearly 70 years now to understand what works in mental health and apply research evidence in practice.

When we consider men’s mental health it’s hard to look beyond the fact that suicide is a leading cause of death for men up to the age of forty, and that the population with the highest frequency of deaths by suicide is men in middle age. If we want to stop men from dying by suicide – and we must – we need to look at what factors affect men’s mental health, and what we can do to enable more men to reach out. When they do, they must be able to access and benefit from mental health services that meet their needs. Too often that isn’t the case. We know that men are less likely to reach out for help and more likely to reach out to the bottle when we are stressed. So how do we address men’s needs?

We’ve been working on that mission for several years now, blending opportunities to address men specifically with opportunities to include men in our wider programmes. In 2010 we published ‘Grouchy Old Men’ – a guide for services coming into contact with men over 50 to consider their needs in relation to mental health. Ever since, we’ve been looking for ways to engage men with the work that we do.

Our partnership with Thrive LDN has set out to improve the mental health and happiness of Londoners. As part of this work we delivered 17 Community Conversations, asking over 1,000 people what would improve their community's mental health. We had lots of feedback about damaging 'macho' and high stress job cultures in male-dominated work places such as construction, City finance and from Transport for London bus drivers. Recommendations include supporting employers with better mental health toolkits and strategies to reduce stress and ill health.

These finding fit well with work we are already doing in our workplace programmes – creating films for Royal Mail Group and Mace Group to enable a largely male workforce to start to talk about mental health, in the context of work to improve mental health in those businesses. This year we’ve been delivering line manager training to hundreds of managers at Yorkshire Building Society and food services company Brakes. The training uses realistic case study scenarios to explore key topics on workplace mental health – including both suicide and unwillingness to seek help amongst men.

Brakes has a largely male workforce – working round the clock in warehouse and driving roles – a challenging operating environment. By adopting the manager training and holding both Curry and Chaat and Tea and Talk fundraising events throughout the business they have set a course to address mental health in a challenging work context and we are excited to see how the programme lands.

One of the approaches that we have specialised in is peer support and self-management. Our Welsh self-management programme for people with long term mental health problems led to an opportunity to take the approach into Parc Prison – an all-male environment. 120 prisoners received training on self-management, with 16 trained as facilitators to promote self-management in the prison community. Wellbeing scores improved, and most prisoners had achieved their goals when followed up.

When we transferred the self-management approach to single parents, we found it harder to reach single dads. We are currently scoping ways to better reach fathers at every stage of the parenting journey to support their mental health needs and enable them to support the mental health of their children.

MHF has just been awarded a new grant from the City Bridge Trust and Sir Halley Stewart Trust to develop our self-management work. The new project will bring together Irish men in North London – a population our research shows have an increased risk of suicide. We hope that this approach will help men who have often silently faced childhood trauma, and mental ill health for years to build skills and confidence in a safe space. We are also hoping to hear shortly whether we have been successful with an application take the Thrive approach to rural Wales, working with the farming community. If successful we will be working with farmers in Powys to manage their mental health as they adjust to the post-Brexit changes that will affect those in rural economies.

Men’s mental health matters! –we will continue to bring together research evidence with the perspective of people with lived experience to develop programmes help prevent mental health problems – whether that is growing resilience for all men in the workplace or reaching the most vulnerable men in the country and helping them rebuild their mental health.