There’s a new social media campaign for mental illness and this one is directed at men.
While more women are diagnosed with mental health conditions, men die by suicide at a rate of nearly four times that of women. It is the seventh leading cause of death for American males while it’s the 14th for females, according to the Center for Disease Control.
One of the reasons for this “gender paradox of suicidal behavior” is that men are less likely to seek help for psychological issues for fear of looking weak. Long-held gender roles allow for women to discuss their emotions, but require men to be stoic.
A British rugby player, Luke Ambler, is challenging those stereotypes by encouraging men to tweet selfies making the universal gesture for “okay” with their fingers and the hashtag #ITSOKAYTOTALK.
The athlete’s brother-in-law died by suicide four months ago, and his family had no indication of how badly he was struggling. Ambler has said that he wished his brother-in-law knew that it was okay to talk about how he was feeling.
He tweeted the first image of himself holding up the “okay” sign on July 31. He asked that others do the same and then tag five friends to get them to do it too.
Throughout August, it’s caught on and hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the globe have shared an okay selfie. Search the hashtag and you’ll find men and women, the young and the old, people of all races. Even actor Ricky Gervais joined the campaign. It’s another reminder that mental illness does not discriminate.
Ambler also started “Andy’s Man Club” named for his brother-in-law that intends to create a safe space for men to gather and talk freely about their feelings with no judgment. If Andy had somewhere to go, if he’d known it was okay to talk about it, he would still be alive, Ambler told the Guardian.
The 26-year-old athlete has a big goal for the campaign: Cut male suicides rates in the U.K. in half in five years. More than 4,500 of the 6,122 suicides there in 2014 were men. In the United States, there were 42,773 suicides in 2014, of which more than 33,000 were men.
“I’m urging people that when they’re in a dark place, reach out and look at Andy’s Man Club and see what we can do for you,” he said in the Guardian article. “Try to talk, it’s not weak whatsoever to talk. If we could have set this up before Andy died then we wouldn’t have his two-year-old daughter growing up without her father.”
In May, therapist and public speaker Amy Morin wrote in a Forbes article about how the construction industry, one that is still predominately male, has a blueprint for encouraging employees to seek help and for supporting them when they do. It can be uncomfortable for these men, who are often tough, macho guys, to be open with their feelings.
In recent years there has been a considerable shift in how people talk about mental health generally. Ambler’s recent effort is one of many social media campaigns designed to raise awareness and encourage those with a mental health condition, and their loved ones, to not feel ashamed.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Let’s all take a cue from Ambler and give each other the OK to talk about our mental health.
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