One in six people between the ages of 12 and 16 have a diagnosable mental health condition. In 2019, over 140 young males between the ages of 15 and 19 were tragically lost to suicide. While these statistics are often cited, simply stating them may not fully convey their severity. That’s 140 families devastated, 140 groups of friends affected, and 140 communities impacted.
We are all aware of the unacceptable stigma surrounding mental health issues in boys and young men. A recent survey conducted by mental health charity Mind showed that 34% of young males said they would feel embarrassed to seek help for their mental health. This stigma is perpetuated by a worrying increase in social media gurus promoting harmful quick-fix solutions and denying the reality of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These individuals profit from people’s desperation to feel better, knowing that it may be perceived as easier for young men to spend money on a scam course than to speak to someone they trust about their struggles.
So, how can we work to stop this stigma? Everyone in this room is responsible for ensuring that our generation and those that follow have positive role models when it comes to seeking help for mental illness. Firstly, it’s important to understand that therapy or counselling is not just a last resort. Don’t rob yourself of feeling better because you don’t believe your issues are serious enough. Secondly, being open and sharing your struggles with someone you trust does not make you weak. The bravery of opening up and being vulnerable is to be admired. Thirdly, nobody is immune to mental health issues. There is no vaccine, and factors such as wealth, strength, and popularity do not mean that someone might not be struggling.
I’m going to ask a favour of you all. At some point this week, please reach out to someone and ask them how they’re doing. And not just in passing – we often ask people how they are doing, but it’s rare that we truly mean it. I mean ask them how they are doing with the genuine intention of being ready to listen to whatever someone may be struggling with. It may seem awkward, in fact, it probably will be, but even if just one person takes the opportunity to open up and seek help for something that is bothering them, it is more than worth all the other potentially awkward conversations. So, I implore you, please, ask someone how they’re doing and mean it.