The focus on the 19th November is often on men’s wellbeing as part of International Men’s Day, and with the month of November being used to draw attention to Men’s Mental Health, there really is a big emphasis on encouraging men to talk more openly about how they’re feeling. With 40% reporting that it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to disclose that they may be struggling (Priory), it’s apparent that something must change in order to allow individuals to feel more comfortable discussing issues before they reach this point.
This doesn’t require a particular scheme of education, a new service or any large-scale changes. It only requires that a portion of men make some small, fundamental changes to the way they view themselves and others. Often as men, we’re perhaps brought up with aspirations of being a stereotypical Clint Eastwood-type – strong and silent. We often hear about how women’s bodies are portrayed in an unrealistic way in the media, in films etc. But think about almost every male lead you’ve seen in a movie; ripped, tall, quiet.
What about on social media platforms? Almost 30% of men over the age of 18 report having felt anxious about their body (Mental Health Foundation). Would you have guessed the number was this high? Probably not, because we don’t talk about things like that. We’re men.
But what does it mean to be a man in 2020? What does masculinity even mean anymore? Clearly, the traditional ideals of masculinity are no longer serving us well (if they ever did). 75% of suicides are men (Mental Health Foundation), and the number of men taking their own life is increasing. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for men under 35, and that’s an alarming statement.
So, what would it take to change this? Well, simply talking. And it doesn’t have to be everyone. One person in a friendship group asking seriously how the others are doing, encouraging their friends to feel comfortable seeing what’s beneath the surface. I’m not suggesting we all must dive in and pour our hearts out to each other, but just opening the door is enough. If you’re reading this and think that you could be that person, I implore you to take that first step, next time you sit down with a friend, share how you’ve been feeling about something in your life. Good or bad. Help them to see it’s ok to talk, by modelling that behaviour.
If you have a son (or daughter), start talking about “feelings” (a dirty word for us men, I know) early on. If something has upset them at school, talk through how it’s affected them. Model positive behaviours, sit down and discuss (within reason) some things that have stressed or upset you at work maybe. Show them it’s ok to be open.
Here are some things to keep in mind, that may make it easier to begin these kinds of conversations with friends and family:
- Think about the environment and your surroundings. The middle of a busy office or pub possibly isn’t a space where people are going to feel comfortable opening up. Try to choose somewhere relatively quiet or private in order to better facilitate these conversations.
- Tone of voice is important, if it seems like you’re making a joke then people will often laugh it off and use this to deflect from going any deeper. (This is something we’re very good at!)
- If you feel you can share a little bit about something you’ve struggled with or an experience you’ve had, then this will go a long way to making someone see that you are a person, they can trust and that has the capacity to understand how they might be feeling.
- Don’t push too hard to get someone to talk, this just makes them put up barriers. As we mentioned before, just opening that door can be enough. Maybe they will come back to you in a week or a month with something they want to discuss.
- If you do manage to start a conversation, encourage the other person to go on and try to talk to another friend. I guess, pay it forward.
In a year when we as humanity have come together and united against everything that has been thrown at us, the theme #UnitedAgainstBullying for Anti-Bullying week 2020 could not be more fitting.
To be United Against Bullying, we must first be clear on what bullying is; it is if somebody physically or verbally abuses another person, with the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) describing bullying as the intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group. Bullying could be an isolated incident or go on for a prolonged amount of time, it can happen to anyone and it can take on many different forms that usually focus on someone’s individual differences – sexual orientation, your race or ethnic background, individual beliefs or faith to name a few. There is, however one aspect of bullying that is a type in its own right, but a common thread amongst all forms of bullying and that is cyberbullying.
It is fair to say that the importance of the message behind Anti-Bullying week has not changed since its origins in 2004; to raise awareness of the bullying of children and young people. However, the issue of bullying has become even more complex due to the rapid evolution of the digital age – this is where cyberbullying has really come to the fore given our constant online connectivity.
So, what is cyberbullying?
It is targeting someone online for any specific reason (or seemingly no reason at all) and often, it is anonymous. With many of us having lived in a state of isolation this year (and many still being in some form of isolation), we are living more of our daily lives in the online world, witnessing or being exposed to online bullying, whether this is directed at you personally or indirectly through sight of hateful or hurtful posts about aspects of who you are. This is commonly referred to as ‘trolling’.
Part of the issue with cyberbullying is that we can very easily become desensitised to it due to its anonymous nature, both as a witness and indeed as the bully. We may witness bullying and share our distaste, but we carry on scrolling. We may leave hurtful comments, share or laugh at what is being said and then simply carry on with our daily lives. For the individual or group being bullied, this is not the case. They are not desensitised to the comments and it can have a direct impact on their daily lives – reading hurtful comments, seeing upsetting stories and reactions leading to feelings of isolation.
So, what effects can bullying have on individuals?
Simply put, a negative one. The impact on a young person’s mental health and wellbeing (or anyone for that matter), is likely to be significant. Feelings such as worthlessness, a loss of confidence, loneliness, anxiety or anger are common. For some, bullying can lead to much more serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders and in extreme cases, this may also lead to self-harm or drugs and alcohol abuse.
Returning our focus to this year, 2020, where we have all lived through stints of isolation, many young people will not have had, or continue to not have, their usual support systems or outlets available to them. Those feelings of worthlessness or loneliness may be heightened and in some cases just as damaging, and you may find yourself asking – what can we do to unite against bullying?
- We can be more conscious of how we are behaving online, not only for ourselves in terms of who we follow, but in how we react and treat others online.
- Reach out if you see a friend or family member getting unwanted comments or attention online and offer them support.
- Check in on your friends and family, encourage them to take breaks from social media or their phone/laptop in general.
- When COVID guidelines say it is safe to do so, meet up and get outside, talk and support each other.
And what about if you are the one being bullied, what can you do?
- First and foremost, find a way to speak up. Ignoring the situation will not make it go away and there will always be someone willing to listen be that a friend, parent, sibling, teacher or carer.
- If you are experiencing cyberbullying specifically – you can report abusive posts on social media platforms or to CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre). And again, speak to someone.
- If this is happening in a school environment (whether that be physically in school or virtually), talk to a parent, carer or teacher – they may have no idea that you are being bullied and there will be policies in place to tackle it. There may also be a listening service available to help you such as the one we offer in some certain schools across the Island.
- Never stop reporting. This may be difficult and tiring, but it is important to keep reporting.
You may not think that if you are being bullied, reporting it is doing much to unite against bullying, but we can assure you – it is! By speaking up, you are shining a spotlight on the issue – you are helping to remove the stigma. You may give someone else the confidence to act and address it, or someone close to you who you never knew was being bullied may resonate with what you are saying. You may make someone realise that they are in fact being bullied or, and maybe most importantly, you may be the voice that helps someone realise that their situation and feelings are real and valid.
This Anti-Bullying week lets stand United Against Bullying. If you are struggling with bullying in any form, please speak up to friends, family, teachers, carers – whoever you feel comfortable opening up to.
Let’s stop the stigma and start a conversation about bullying.
The 13th of November is celebrated annually around the world as World Kindness Day. First established in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, the day aims to create a kinder world through inspiring individuals and nations to work towards greater kindness, but what actually is kindness? It’s defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate; as a recent Philosophy graduate, my mind instantly went straight to a popular quote from Plato:
“Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person”.
The reason I like this quote is that it moves away from viewing kindness as specific actions and focuses on kindness being an attitude; a characteristic inherent to being a human. So are we safe in saying that humans are naturally kind? Dr Oliver Scott Curry, an anthropologist based at Oxford University, has dedicated his career exploring scientific explanations of why we are kind; his studies have a common trend, this being that we as humans are naturally kind! Now there’s an argument that suggests this is primarily because performing acts of kindness has a positive affect on our wellbeing, which is definitely true. For instance, being kind is known to help reduce stress levels. Having said this, Dr Curry’s work shows that we aren’t just kind to benefit ourselves but because it’s our human instinct to want to see each other succeed and thrive.
This prompted me to think about the way those around me treat me with kindness. Some of the things I’ve listed below:
- My friends giving me little compliments throughout the day, such as telling me my hair looks nice (even when I really disagree).
- My friend recently gave me a beautiful plant she had actually grown herself to have on my desk in the office, completely unprompted but because she knew I’d like it.
- My friend from the UK recently sent me a card with “you are my sunshine” on the front in the post, which was the nicest surprise to come home to.
- My friends giving me random hugs (I’m a big hugger); note this is on the Isle of Man, where we are currently in the privileged position in which we do not have to practice social distancing. Please stay safe and follow social distancing guidelines for where you are!
This probably doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary but to me, these small acts of kindness hold the power to completely change the course of my entire day, week or month. No matter how small or how extravagant an act of kindness is, it is always appreciated even if silently.
Take a quick moment to think about the small things those around you do to treat you with kindness. You may have not considered that your colleague holding the door open for you is an act of kindness, or when your neighbour took your bin to the collection point for you because you forgot the night before. Now think about how these small acts made you feel – Good, right? These very small acts can often have the most impact, without us even realising.
This World Kindness Day I implore you to think about how you treat others with kindness. Consider the small and the big things you do on a daily basis and how your kindness impacts those around you. This might get you thinking that you’ve not done anything kind recently, but have you complimented a friend? Liked a local business’ post on Instagram? Let a stranger go in front of you in the queue for the bus? As mentioned, kindness is integral to who we are as humans, so it’s more than likely you are performing acts of kindness without even realising!
Lastly, it’s also important to consider how we are kind to ourselves! Have you ever noticed how much better we treat other people when we’ve taken care of ourselves? It’s easy to find ourselves overwhelmed with our commitments and subsequently our emotions; but the world often rights itself when we take a moment to breathe, assess what we need and seek it. Please be kind to yourself when you misstep, we’re human and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself making mistakes daily. Take a bath, go for a run or even turn your phone off for half an hour. Whatever it is you need to do, be kind to yourself – you’re doing an amazing job.