Our co-creator Kate explains how a personal experience became the driving force behind Man Up Man Down, a campaign for better men’s mental health. This is her story.
When I meet someone new and they ask me, “So what do you do?”, I respond with, “I work full time in a cafe, but on the side I campaign for better mental health awareness. Specifically men’s mental health”. The most frequent response I get is, “But why are you, a woman, creating a campaign specifically for men?”. The next question is, “What do you know about men’s mental health?”.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with asking, in fact I admire the curiosity. But the reason why I am campaigning for better men’s mental health is quite complicated and personal. So if I meet you for the first time, and you ask me those two obvious questions I might reply quickly and feel a bit anxious, but it’s nothing against you. I promise.
I’m now going to take this opportunity to explain myself. This story is quite sad at points, but it is also very fulfilling and if you’ve been through the same experience then I really, really hope this helps you!
So my story begins with me aged nineteen. Young, naive and moving away from home for the first time for university. This was very exciting - I was ‘independent’ (ha!). But within the first four months I was a nervous wreck. Socialising and meeting new people was HORRIBLE! Luckily I didn’t move back home and I pushed past all those anxious thoughts in my head.
After my first year of university I was diagnosed with moderately severe anxiety, which was triggered by social situations. This was a result of low self-esteem caused by bullying and other factors in my life. After I was diagnosed there was only one person I felt truly comfortable talking to who has also been the biggest influence in my life so far.
I’m not going to reveal his name, so you can all know him as Monkey Boy because he loved climbing.
Monkey Boy was the first person who listened to me talk about my mental health problems. The first conversation we had on the matter lasted four hours and it was GREAT! For the first time it felt like we both had a voice and a better understanding of our thoughts.
From this point forward we were connected and he meant the world to me. Monkey Boy was playful, clever, funny and full of ideas! For those of you who knew him well I think you’d agree that there’s no amount of explaining which could do his beautiful character justice. He was remarkable and loved by so many people around him.
I think you can tell where this story is going... In September 2012 my friend decided to take his own life. After struggling with numerous mental health issues he had made his decision.
Grieving is shit. Grieving a death caused by suicide is complicated. It’s like a tiny seed sprouting out into a hundred little branches of problems across your mind. The hardest part is accepting. Accepting the person is gone and accepting it was not your fault - these are two things I’m still coming to terms with.
I have spent my early twenties grieving but also learning about the series of events which lead to my friends death and the outcome is this campaign, Man Up Man Down.
There is an undeniable crisis within men’s mental health. It’s a result of harmful stigmas giving the illusion that talking about mental health is showing emotion and that somehow that is weak. But it goes further than men not talking. My friend talked openly about his mental health but I did not understand how to respond.
At Man Up Man Down we create space for men to talk. This means we encourage men to talk and we help others understand how to respond.
What happened to my friend has been the hardest thing to deal with and there’s still a lot to accept. Even now I feel like he’s just been away for a very long time and when I think about what really happened it’s like someone’s punched me in the stomach a thousand times. This might stay with me forever, but I’m learning to cope with it in my own way.
Working on Man Up Man Down with James has helped me understand so much. Mental health is complicated no matter who you are, but keeping it bottled up only makes those problems worse.
Everyone should take time to learn about mental health. We need to understand each other’s behaviour so we can recognise the signs that suggest a person is struggling. If you are seeing these signs please ask for help!
For me, Monkey Boy has been the driving force behind this campaign. I think about him everyday and our memories will always be treasured.