Tackling stigma of mental health among men

On day three of our series Talk & Tell examining Lancashire's high suicide rate FIONA FINCH speaks to three charities working to give hope to those in despair.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th October 2016, 8:30 am
Updated Thursday, 27th October 2016, 4:45 pm
Television portrayal: Lancashire actor John Thomson plays a character suffering  from depression in ITV drama Cold Feet
Television portrayal: Lancashire actor John Thomson plays a character suffering from depression in ITV drama Cold Feet


The traditional image of sportsmen in a locker room doesn’t usually involve them sharing their personal problems off the pitch.

However, charity co-founder Malcolm Rae believes sport has a big role to play in tackling men’s mental health issues.

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Preston-born Malcolm (pictured below) is chief nurse for mental health at the Department of Health and co-founder of charity State of Mind.

The suicide of well-known Rugby League player Terry Newton in Orrell, Wigan, six years ago was the trigger for the creation of State of Mind – an organisation Lancashire County Council is now working with.

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Malcolm, who trained at Whittingham Hospital, Sharoe Green and Preston Royal Infirmary, said: “Two or three of us – both fans of Rugby League and also health professionals decided we wanted to do something. We’re about using sport to raise the profile of mental health.”

They enlisted the help of two of Terry’s former team mates, now Sky TV presenters, which he says helped open doors for them.

The vocabulary they use is chosen with care: the emphasis is on mental fitness and “help a mate”.

They want to tackle stigma about mental health and use sport and sporting metaphors to reach the hardest to reach – men, making them understand that they are not alone in feeling vulnerable.

“It’s also about trying to prevent suicide and we know men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women. Men aged 45 -59 are the highest at risk group.”

Young males too are vulnerable and he adds: “It’s known 70 per cent of men who take their own lives are not in touch with mental health services.”

If men feel it is a weakness to seek help, Malcolm and team are there to show it is a strength.

He says his programme is unique because they also feature professional sportsmen who acknowledge the problems they have faced. In the last five years, the organisation has given talks to more than 15,000 people.

State of Mind has been innovative in the venues it chooses for promoting its work holding rugby themed events at fish and chip shops, betting shops, barber’s shops and the like. The charity has also been to UCLan to work with students and staff.

Ex-players share how they felt leading up to a game, how they handled the stress and in a “half time discussion” between the showing of classic films from rugby matches.

It’s a win-win situation – a chance to talk rugby and share passion for the game, but also to encourage people to seek help.

With the aid of Big Lottery funding and an RL charity 10-week courses for men are being run at three North West rugby clubs. Malcolm says: “It’s about promoting wellbeing and resilience and trying to prevent suicide happening.”


AS chief executive officer of Lancashire Mind, Stewart Lucas knows it’s good to talk.

The charity is keen to spread the message that timely support can prevent mental health issues escalating to a crisis.

“Having a mental health condition isn’t the be all and end all,” says Stewart, who is a keen advocate of The Five Ways To Wellbeing.

He lists the five actions which can make a key difference to your mental health:

l Taking notice of the world

l Connecting with friends and family

l Being physically active

l Keep learning

l Keep giving.

He said: “I’m not going to claim this will prevent suicide. What is shown is these five things contribute to higher mental wellbeing and that contributes to a better management of mental health.”

He says we need to create an environment where people are able to talk about feelings.

He cites a recent episode of ITV drama Cold Feet when Pete - played by Lancashire actor John Thomson (pictured) - has depression: “The person who realised was his mate – it wasn’t the doctor. It wasn’t the mental health professional, it was his mate. That’s the important thing. Everybody in society plays the role in that.”


Former headmistress Eileen Brierley has been a Samaritan for five years and is the director of the Preston branch in St Wilfrid’s Street, Preston.

She says financial troubles seem to affect a lot of callers she speaks to. “It’s grim at the minute now. I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about work.

“A lot of people have no job prospects. A lot of people are suffering from mental health issues.”

In this context, a minor setback can become major. “They lose the balance of reason. There’s a lot of loneliness and isolation.”

The branch is staffed by 85 volunteers and relies entirely on donations.

Phil Curwen, a Samaritans volunteer for 23 years, said: “We want to make it better for the people of Lancashire really.

“It’s not just older people. We get a lot of students talking to us. They’re probably away from home for the first time. In essence it’s about relationships.

“It’s very important we need to have a connection with our fellow man. If we don’t that leads to loneliness and isolation.”

Academic and social pressures and student debt can all create problems for young students, with social media exacerbating issues.

It is thought Preston’s high suicide rate could be due to a combination of factors – with deprivation, the fact Preston is home to a large student population, a prison, a rail network, lack of life opportunities, having all contributed.

The branch dealt with 16,349 calls in 2015 but it’s not known how many of their calls were local as some can be diverted from elsewhere. Eighty per cent of callers are not suicidal.

They have more female callers and occasionally receive calls from children who appreciate the confidentiality.

Above all, the Samaritans offer an invitation to talk and explore options. Eileen said: “We don’t give advice. We believe it’s the caller’s right to self-determination, but we do provide a listening ear. “

The peak hours for calls are from 10pm through the night until about 7am. Predictably Christmas, New Year and significant anniversaries are also busy times for calls. Eileen notes: “We know people are going to have these difficult times that will crop up. It’s being on their side, saying life is obviously difficult at the moment. Talk me through it, tell me about it.”


If you or someone you know feels suicidal help is available.

1.Preston Samaritans: 01772 822022 or freephone 116 123 The Preston branch is at 11 St Wilfrid Street.

2. PAPYRUS HOPELineUK offers advice on young suicide prevention - 0800 068 41 41 text 077 86 20 9697 or email [email protected]

3. Lancashire’s Wellbeing and Mental Health Helpline - 0800 915 4640


4.CRUSE Bereavement Care - 0808 808 1677 or www.cruse.org.uk.