International Men’s Day’s track record on male suicide
Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley who is opposed to politicians debating men’s issues on International Men’s Day (until there is an equal number of female politicians in the House of Commons), was asked about male suicide on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, writes Glen Poole.
During the discussion, Andrew Marr said: “I’m tempted to say that perhaps we should have International Men’s Day”.
Philips response, waving at the newspaper article on male suicide, was: “You may be tempted to say that it wouldn’t help any of these people.”
Personally I am saddened that a politician who has taken to opposing International Men’s Day, for reasons that appear to have more to do with her own gender politics than the needs of men and boys in the UK, should attack the day and our supporters in this way.
I’ve invited Jess Phillips to apologise to International Men’s Day and its supporters here.
And by way of response to Jess Phillips’ claim that International Men’s Day does nothing to help tackle the issue of male suicide, here is an quick history of just some of the things we have done to try and tackle male suicide in the UK since 2010.
The first International Men’s Day I was personally involved with was in 2010 and I’ve been supporting and promoting the day every year since and can confirm that every year people have used the day to focus on the issue of male suicide.
In 2010, for example, I responded to news that the suicide rate in Brighton & Hove, where I live, was almost twice the national average by raising awareness of the issue locally. On 2nd February 2010 I told The Argus newspaper:
“People are quick to blame men for not taking care of their wellbeing, but that approach isn’t stopping men becoming victims of suicide. The NHS does amazing work, but isn’t as effective at reaching men as women. You can’t help people if you’re not in contact with them.”
I then took action to try and help local services to become more effective at reaching out to men.
On International Men’s Day 2010 I hosted a local conference called “Improving Services for Men and Boys” which involved more than 50 professionals including the founder of a local suicide prevention charity.
One of the attendees of this event was Mark Brooks of The ManKind Initiative who has taken a lead role in supporting and promoting International Men’s Day every year since.
On International Men’s Day 2011 we hosted the First National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton and Hove. The event was attended by frontline professionals from all over the UK and included a presentation to delegates on tackling male suicide from the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM UK).
After the conference we produce a joint letter to the Home Office signed by around 100 people including a representative from CALM, calling on government to take more action to address a road range of issues experienced by men and boys.
Since 2011, International Men’s Day has continued to support CALM and and CALM has supported International Men’s Day.
At this conference I also me Dan Bell, a supporter of CALM and journalist who had previously written about male suicide, for the first time.
2011 also saw the first serious article in the national media about International Men’s Day from Ally Fogg in The Guardian. Fogg pointed out that the majority of people he talked to about the day “were dismissive, jocular or mocking, and about a quarter were actively hostile”.
Fogg argued that “IMD is necessary and deserving of support, precisely because so few people believe it is needed” and called for male suicide to be part of the day’s focus.
Ally has be come our number one supporter in the national media ever since. Like all of us involved in the day, we don’t always agree with each other of specific issues, but we all agree that events that unite us like International Men’s Day are part of tackling issues that impact men and boys, like male suicide.
In 2012 International Men’s Day UK conducted a poll to identity the “Top 10 Men’s Issues” that people working with men and boys thought we should focus on for International Men’s Day. Number two on the list of issues “tackling male suicide” (ending violence against men and boys was the number one).
As a result of this poll, we included the male suicide prevention charity CALM UK on a list of 10 men’s charities that people could fundraise for on International Men’s Day if they wanted to.
Representatives of CALM UK were also among 200 delegates who attended the Second National Conference for Men and Boys held in the run up to International Men’s Day, once again providing professionals with guidanc on preventing male suicide.
In a review of the International Men’s Day conference for The Guardian, Ally Fogg wrote:
“The men’s sector, as represented that day, includes many brilliant organisations. In isolation they have done great things. But in coming together as a sector for International Men’s Day, we may be seeing the seeds of a new unity, a recognition that the problems they face are often the same one.”
In 2013 we focused on creating more media discussion on International Men’s Day.
As UK co-ordinator for the day, I wrote in the Guardian about men being at greater risk of suicide than women and highlighted the fact that men accounted for 84% of suicides linked to the recession, in the Telegraph.
Meanhwile, in the Independent, Ally Fogg challenged people who mock International Men’s Day, saying:
“Surely they realise that such swipes barely tickle at the men in designer suits who run the banks, the governments and the corporations, while cutting deep at the homeless, the desperate, the suicidal, the young victims of rape and sexual abuse leaving care and going straight to prison. They must feel so proud.”
On a personal not, I held a launch event for my book Equality For Men on International Men’s Day, the topics discussed include male suicide.
The book has been described by the psychologist and mental health campaigner, Martin Seager as:
“A truly excellent, accessible and compelling read that should reach many people and change attitudes towards gender.” Martin Seager, Psychologist and Mental Health campaigner.
I was fortunate enough to meet Martin through CALM and International Men’s Day and find out about his great work with the Samaritans, enhancing their approaches to working with male clients.
I’ve subsequently taken part in two Male Psychology Conferences run by Martin, as a keynote speaker and a delegate and learnt a great deal about male suicide prevention in the process. International Men’s Day doesn’t just make a splash one for one day, the connections we make each year and the ripples we create together, continue to make a difference throughout the year.
Martin, for example, has just launched a petition asking the Labour Party to appoint a shadow minister for men and boys wellbeing which we’ll promote in the run up to International Men’s Day.
Throughout 2014 I represented International Men’s Day on the committee of The Year of the Male, an initiative by the male suicide prevention charity, CALM UK, to try and generate a bigger cultural conversation about men and why suicide is so prevalent.
CALM also used International Mens’ Day to launch a new report on masculinity in the House of Commons fronted by the Labour peer Paul Boateng. Both myself and Mark Brooks happily took time of work to attend and support this event at our expense. Like many people campaigning for men and boys, most of the work we do is voluntary and self funded.
International Men’s Day in 2014 also promoted a tour of the UK by Josh Rivedal, a suicide prevention campaigner from the US, whose work targeting university students and the general public was inspired by his father’s suicide.
Meanwhile, at insideMAN magazine, working with Dan Bell (who I first met on International Men’s Day in 2011), we published 100 articles about men, manhood and masculinity, including several that referenced suicide and depression.
In particular I remember an article promoting the work of James Withey who had recovered from the edge of suicide and had set up a website called the Recovery Letters that helped others to recover from depression.
This year International Men’s Day continues to be an initiative that works to forward work that tackles male suicide. CALM will be using International Men’s Day to promote its new #BiggerIssues campaign this year, which I encourage everyone who reads this to get behind.
And of course a proposal made by Phillip Davies MP that men’s issues (including males suicide) should be debated by politicians on International Men’s Day, has led to a media storm involving Jess Phillips MP, that culminated in her promising to “call for the Government to spend money on creating a specialist men’s suicide prevention service“.
None of this happened overnight, whatever Jess Phillips tries to tell the public about International Mens’ Day doing nothing to help prevent male suicide in the UK.
On a positive note, I’d like to personally thank for her supporting one of the aims of International Men’s Day which is to help tackle male suicide in the UK.
And finally, I’ve invited Jess Phillips to apologise to International Men’s Day and its supporters here.
FOOTNOTE: On November 10th 2015 we hear the great news that there will be a debate in parliament on male suicide and International Men’s Day on 19th November 2015.