Freelance journalist Jasmine Andersson explains why she believes TV presenter Piers Morgan’s tweets about men and mental health could prove a death sentence for many.
It was during a car journey when I was about 14 years old that I found out that my grandad had committed suicide. He had hanged himself in his shed. My teenage uncle discovered his body, and was “never the same again.” These were the words my parents used to describe what happened, and the expression serves as an astute summary of the mental health issues that have haunted the men in my family ever since.
This event was mentioned to me once, which is once more than my grandad spoke about his mental health problems. My grandad may have come from a loving and communicative family, but he was affected by the silence that still haunts men three generations on – men are simply not told to talk about mental illness.
When the lauded attention seeker that is Piers Morgan tweeted that male mental health sufferers needed to “man up” and help those who “REALLY need help” in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week, he became so much more corrosive than a toadish contrarian ready to rack up the retweets at whatever cost. He became a condoning force in victimising a nation of men who have been conditioned their entire lives to repress their mental health struggles – struggles which are often ending with men taking their lives rather than opening their mouths.
Morgan says it’s “dangerous nonsense” to suggest so many people are suffering. But if anyone is spouting dangerous nonsense here, it’s Morgan himself.
Talking isn’t easy. I have never written about my own frustrating battle with mental health – three bouts of crippling depression and generalised anxiety disorder, if you’re interested – because of that self-loathing fear that it looks like an application for attention.
But discussing struggling health issues shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, or an abnormality, or something to be ashamed of. Sufferers should be encouraged to speak up about their issues as soon as possible, rather than be bullied into burying their feelings and struggle alone: if they don’t tell people how they’re feeling on day one, it becomes harder and harder to open up. By day 20, they may feel so isolated and unable to cope that they feel as if they’re unable to go on any longer. And, by day 45, they may be just another suicide statistic.
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When people like Morgan feel as if they are somehow entitled to exploit that insecurity and ridicule the 34 million people suffering from mental health issues in the UK, specifically targeting men in the process, it causes nothing but irreparable and unnecessary harm.
By using his platform to goad the men who are questioning whether or not they’re entitled to be mentally ill, the Good Morning Britain presenter draws attention to one of the most common misconceptions – that there is entitlement when it comes to mental illness. There is no such thing. Whether or not you have a mental health problem is not indicative of your gender. There is nothing masculine or feminine about suffering from the likes of depression, anxiety or OCD. There is no selection process. It’s a serious chemical illness that can destroy anyone in its grip, affecting the most muscular athlete right through to a small, shy young boy during his first days at school.
My grandad’s generation was defined by a deafening silence surrounding mental health: this silence still defines our own.
I have lost count of the amount of male friends who have drunkenly phoned me about their suicidal intentions in the dead of night, only to dismiss them in the morning as ‘stupid’ thoughts borne out of the emotional scope of drink. I have lost count of the scores of male mates who have told me that they can’t get out of bed because they don’t know how to feel anything anymore, yet still refuse to seek help. These are the same men who mock their friends for crying on a night out, for confessing their feelings about someone they fancy, who think that feelings are for the weak. They’re taught to lead duplicitous lives because of dangerous spokespeople like Morgan who possess a deluded vision of what it takes to be a man, and what it takes to have a valid mental illness.
If Morgan wants men to ‘man up’, he’s already winning: men aren’t speaking out, and suicide is officially the single biggest killer of men aged between 20 and 49 years old. This corrosive, dangerous and outdated gender stereotype is preventing people from seeking help and, ultimately, destroying them. Morgan is employing language that kills.
It’s high time that this relic was removed from our television screens, because, no matter how much he scoffs at mental health statistics, he is contributing to one undeniable rise – the rise of male suicide.
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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