Even in a climate where it’s becoming more accepted to openly talk about our mental health, research shows that many men still feel they can’t seek help for issues like anxiety, depression or grief.
Dismantling the stigma around men’s mental health is something that TV presenter and podcast host Jeff Brazier wants to address, having experienced bereavement himself – helping his two boys through the devastating death of their mother, Jade Goody, in 2009.
Now 42, Brazier believes there are some outdated, toxic stereotypes that men feel the pressure to measure up to – and it’s causing them to stay silent.
Research from grief charity StrongMen (strongmen.org.uk) has recently found that 47% of men don’t share their real emotions due to a lack of confidence and 1 in 4 men bottle up their feelings, suffering from the age old gender stereotype of it being ‘unmanly’ to show vulnerability.
We spoke to the former footballer about what it means to be a man in today’s society, and how embracing our emotions can make us more human.
Therapy is the greatest gift you could ever give to yourself and the ultimate form of self-care– Jeff Brazier
Why do you think that men struggle to speak out?
“Weakness is what we’ve learned to avoid from a really young age. It comes naturally for many of us to mask all of our inadequacies, insecurities and vulnerabilities.
“What you see on the outside doesn’t ever really tell you the story of what’s going on inside.
“The stresses and pace of life was quite enough for people to deal with before, but now we’ve had the pandemic, I really worry about everybody – but especially men, as research shows that half of us are not likely to be telling anybody that we’re struggling.”
Did you struggle with showing your emotions in your younger years?
“I tried to tough it out when the boys lost their mum. I learned to use positivity as a shield. It’s very effective in ensuring that you don’t have to deal with the things that you don’t want to deal with, as you can just positively march through everything.
“The problem I’ve learned in later life – through therapy and just growing up generally – is that when you stop yourself from feeling the things you don’t want to feel, you stop yourself from feeling the things you could benefit from.
“Now I’ve got to the point where I’m really enjoying sharing my vulnerabilities. That is a real full circle moment for me, and a place that I wish upon everyone; where you can own the difficulties you’ve had in your life and the impact they’ve had on you, and not be afraid to discuss them.”
What are the benefits of taking that step to open up if you’re struggling?
“When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, that’s when you actually get what you need; the information, the support and the feeling of relief.
“You also get a sense of strength, because you realise you were brave enough to share it and nothing bad happened. All the best stuff happens when you get the courage to step over that threshold.”
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think you would you have handled grief differently?
“Probably not, because I’m still the same person and age is irrespective. People say time is a healer, but I don’t really believe in that. I think we’re the healer, and what you choose to do will either encourage or discourage healing.
“I needed to go through that process and learn those lessons. When it comes to death and dealing with bereaved children, it’s such a unique and traumatic experience that ultimately, it will always play out the way it’s going to play out.
“When you get to the point where you’ve made all the mistakes that there are to make, you’ve got some really useful knowledge to share. It’s the collection of mistakes that give you the insights and perspective to be able to do the job.
“Now my sons are 16 and 18, I can say that it’s never about what you say to kids, it’s what you show them. As a father, I want to model honest behaviour. I want to show people that sharing your vulnerabilities is strength.”
What advice do you have for men who are struggling with their mental health?
“I will always be an advocate for therapists, because I know how life-changing it’s been for me. It’s the greatest gift you could ever give to yourself and the ultimate form of self-care.
“Someone once asked me what it means to be ‘manly’ and on reflection, it’s not something I’m in pursuit of – at least not for the last however many years.
“What I’m trying to be is as human as I can. There’s a big difference between the two. For men that are struggling with their identity, I would say, ‘Would it help you to take that hat off and put on the human hat instead? ‘
“For me, it’s less confined and constrictive. What good is being manly today? How is being tough going to help you to navigate the extreme mental health challenges that we’re facing? Being human is easier, as there’s a lot less pressure.”
Jeff Brazier is baring himself on social media as part of StrongMen’s #BareYourself campaign, and is encouraging friends and followers to do the same to help support grieving men.