For nearly 40 years, as a man personally and professionally, I have struggled uncomfortably with the issue of the “male elephant in the room”; in fact not even in the room, but outside the door.
My journey as a boy, son, young male, man, husband, father, single parent father, community worker, unemployed male, mental health service user, founder of a social enterprise, social entrepreneur, counsellor, psychologist, criminologist and grandfather, has been enlightening for me as a male. I have observed both in my own life and through observing the many thousands of people that have been fellow journeymen, that men in England are as much emotionally outside the door as they were in my childhood days.
-- This is article #59 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Equality between men and women has radically changed in many ways but in one way it has not. According to research by Professor Brid Featherstone men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women and four times less likely to ask for help.
Men's gender issues overlooked
Men are still only 10% of single parents which is a figure that has not really changed since I became one in 1987 -- not by choice, but by chance and necessity. In my world of family mental health, men are still seen as the “problem” not the solution and often seen as the perpetrator of the “problem”. Fatherhood as a specific subject within children and families policy “yoyos” in and out of favour, whilst motherhood is still mainly in a saintly position.
My argument is not that men at times do not behave badly, or are not perpetrators and abusers, but that the gender issues that men and fathers face are not given the same recognition as those faced by women and mothers.
For example, if we take the sad issue of suicide, it is statistically clear that 75% of these deaths are men in UK, but this is not debated as a male issue. Men and depression does now get highlighted, but the NHS and the Government have not made the issue a high priority.
There have been some excellent reports at local, regional, and national level since 2010, but when I raise this issue with mental health commissioners they in the main see it as an added-value subject. This means that if we have some money at the end of the financial year, we will perhaps commission a report. Fatherhood is also in this relegation zone -- there were an emerging number of father worker posts within children and families departments across England, but it appears that this add-on and non-statutory luxury is on the austerity cutting-room floor.
Men need to be empowered
My Time CIC -- based in the West Midlands and strangely also now in Isle of Wight, which I founded 12 years ago and by some miracle still plods on like an over-active tortoise -- still flies the flag for men and women to get parity and equality within mental health and family services.
A huge proportion of children in care are there due to the mental health problems of parents and as a consequence of domestic violence. This grave social and economic issue will not be resolved without the male elephant being invited firstly into the room and secondly engaged -- whether or not society feels uncomfortable with this. There also has to be a strong focus on women’s, at times, unacceptable behaviour, and on promoting images of men that are positive role models and there are surprisingly many.
Men need to be empowered to take control of their issues and challenge men who are not behaving. It is our responsibility and right. This old elephant is very much sitting in the room.
Michael Lilley is founder and chief executive of My Time CIC (www.mytime.org.uk) which is part of the Richmond Fellowship Group (www.richmondfellowship.org.uk). Michael is currently working on establishing a Well-Being Hotel and Recovery Centre on Isle of Wight.
Reference: Talking Men - Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal October 2012
Picture credit: Lucas Santana
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men's Day 2014 by clicking on this link---#100Voices4Men---and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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