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Suicide is the most common cause of death in men under the age of 50 in the UK. In 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded – 75% of these were men. The male suicide rate in the UK is three times higher than that of women.

The statistics are blunt and unambiguous: despite male suicide rates in the UK falling to their lowest levels in more than 30 years, Britain is facing an untreated and unspoken mental health crisis. There are many variables that lie behind these statistics and any possible solution to this crisis will require a multi-faceted approach.

Removing the societally constructed stigma that exists around men and their mental wellbeing is a crucial first step in addressing this public health crisis. Stigma is a barrier to the treatment of mental health illnesses and only when men feel comfortable talking about this topic will they likely engage with mental health services and seek treatment.

The roots of this stigma have long been discussed but, in part, can be attributed to conformity to outdated male stereotypes and templates of masculinity – the idea of men as a source of strength, with phrases such as ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘man up’ common place.

Such misconceived notions of masculinity foster what is termed “public stigma” and “self-styled stigma”. A 2014 paper defines public stigma as the perception held by others that a mentally unwell individual is socially undesirable. Stigmatised individuals may then internalise these prejudices, leading to the development of negative feelings about their own self – this is self-stigmatisation. The same paper then highlights the compounding and inhibitory effect of traditional masculine gender norms on help-seeking.

There exists a toxic and symbiotic relationship between mental health illness, masculinity, public stigma, self-stigma and attitudes to seeking help. One point of light, however, is that evidence suggests that information and education about mental health can break this cycle by helping to reduce or prevent self-stigma.

Monday 13th May marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. This week should be used as an opportunity to ask what we are doing as individuals and as a society to tackle this stigma, raise mental health awareness and support those suffering.

As individuals, there is much that we can do. Simply talking more about mental health will normalise it and help address any lingering misperceptions. Similarly, being there for someone who is suffering from mental health difficulties and making clear that you are there to provide a judgement free and solutions focused environment can make a huge difference. This can be the first step in helping them seek professional help.

Mental health is still a taboo subject in the workplace – 67% of employees still feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer. Employers should be playing a greater role in mental health initiatives. For example, investing in training to recognise the early signs of a mental health condition, having a mental health board champion or organising events such as the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Tea and Talk’ initiative designed to create conversations on mental health in workplaces.

At the root of this is a collective societal awkwardness – a tendency to shy away from discussing a problem that touches us all. What mental health needs now more than ever is a candid and shamelessly open dialogue.

Andrew Baker is a lawyer, Conservative activist and member of Bright Blue. He is also the Treasurer of the Tory Reform Group and Deputy Chairman of Bermondsey and Old Southwark Conservative Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.