Jackie Doyle-Price MP: Men’s mental health, breaking the silence
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week takes stress as its theme and asks the question: ‘Are we coping?’. Many men struggle to confront the answer, so it’s vital that we continue to raise awareness says Jackie Doyle-Price, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities.
Mental health problems can affect anyone whatever their background, gender, age, race or sexual orientation - and some groups may struggle more than others to overcome the stigma generated by societal or cultural taboos. Men occupy one such group in society, where sharing or confronting worries and concerns can feel particularly hard to do.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen Coronation Street conclude a heartbreakingly honest storyline on suicide. Aidan Connor’s depression was not obvious to anybody, though viewers will have seen some tell-tale signs.
When the soaps focus on an issue they can be powerful vehicles for public education and raising awareness. I commend the makers of Coronation Street and the Samaritans who worked hand-in-glove to ensure the portrayal was sensitive, as well as grounded in the harsh reality.
It is true that men often experience difficulty in opening up about depression and other mental health issues. They hide their feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety, avoiding or rejecting help, sometimes for fear of being seen as weak.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week takes stress as its theme and asks the question: ‘Are we coping?’ Many men struggle to confront the answer, so it’s vital that we continue to raise awareness. This means working together to tackle stigma and make mental health a part of our everyday conversation so that people don’t feel afraid to come forward at the points in their lives where they need some extra support.
Sadly, for a small minority of people, episodes of mental ill health can lead to crisis point, meaning that they need to be detained for treatment under the Mental Health Act.
Even though detention numbers are falling overall, this remains a situation disproportionately worse for some ethnic groups. For example, we know that black men are at greater risk of experiencing psychosis than other groups, and that detentions under the Mental Health Act are more than four times higher for black people than white people.
We need to get better at understanding the causes of this disparity and help more people from black and ethnic minorities receive the timely support and treatment they need and deserve.
Regardless of gender and ethnicity, this government, the police, and health and care services are committed to the first, best option: trained mental health professionals providing appropriate diagnosis, treatment and support in safe, therapeutic settings.
So here’s the good news: since 2012, the number of people being detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act has fallen by 90 percent. The suicide rate in men has reduced in England for the third consecutive year and national rates are at a six-year low.
There is much more to do – suicide remains the biggest cause of death in men under 50 in England. That’s why we are committed to making sure every local area has a robust multi-agency suicide prevention plan in place supported by £25million over the next three years.
More broadly, spending on mental health has gone up faster than overall NHS funding and is set to rise.
The formation of the Crisis Care Concordat has helped emergency services work together for those in the most acute need.
Anyone feeling depressed, afraid or otherwise in distress stands to benefit from these already well established local networks of support. Any initiative designed to improve health and wellbeing outcomes must work as effectively for those with the severest mental health needs as those with more moderate conditions. If we can do right by the marginalised and the under-represented, we set the bar for the whole of society.
In that spirit, I hope that boys and men from all communities and all backgrounds will feel encouraged to talk about mental health and, if necessary, seek help and support, including before they reach crisis point.
Time to Change’s recent ‘In your corner’ campaign is a great example of how men can look out for each other before things get too much. And here are some other examples of safe and familiar spaces within which men can find common ground to discuss their concerns:
Of course women experience mental ill health as much as men, which is why I am co-chairing the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce with the organisation Agenda to consider the particular issues affecting women.
The Coronation Street storyline may have placed men’s mental health in a fictional context, but the issues are real and we will work with all our health and care partners to give everyone the support they need to live well and be happy.
This government is proud to support Mental Health Awareness Week, as it is any initiative that seeks to improve and save lives.
Jackie Doyle-Price is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities