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A Chat with Kenny Aruwa about Men’s Mental Health

18 Jan 2021 1 comment

With November being a month focussed on raising awareness of men’s health and so much wonderful work being done by the RUMS community to raise money for Movember, we invited UCL’s very own Kenny Aruwa to discuss men’s mental health. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, and Kenny was well-placed to use his own experiences as a male and as a UCL Student Support and Wellbeing advisor to explore the unique challenges faced by men.

Kenny identified how difficulties in opening up and being vulnerable can result in much mental health malaise amongst men. He never opened up about his own mental health until the age of 24 because he had never seen an example of that from his father or older brother. They were the quintessential macho men, complete with a stiff upper lip and an aversion to discussing feelings. All too often, there is a fear or hesitation amongst men to admit weakness which hampers efforts to open up to someone, stemming from a societal expectation of men to be strong and shy away from outward displays of vulnerability.

Yet that cannot be further from the truth. Vulnerability shows strength.

Think about how difficult it has been for you to open up to someone in the past. If you still struggle with that, you can empathise with how challenging it can be. It takes guts and courage to expose yourself to potential shame and judgement, especially in a culture where maintaining an idyllic outer image is still very much the goal.

This is an issue that everyone faces. Sadly, the idea of opening up has become gendered. And that is literally killing men. The use of “feminine” or “pussy” to criticise people expressing emotion devalues the issues that we, as men, face. The implicit statement in those words is that feeling down or anxious are afflictions suffered only by women and admission of such feelings is a failure of one’s masculinity and, by extension, their identity. We all go through ups and downs. It’s those ups and downs that makes the human experience so enthralling and wonderful, but also difficult at times, and that should never preclude anyone from receiving support in a tough moment.

We know there is an endemic issue with men’s mental health in this country and beyond these borders.

So what can you do?

Be an option for someone to open up to. The phrase “how are you” is now used interchangeably with “hello”. Asked once, it acts as a greeting. When asked for a second time, however, it functions as a genuine question. And that’s all you need to do. You’re sending a signal that you are available to talk, even if they initially turn you down. Lowering the barriers to expressing vulnerability is huge when it comes to men’s mental health because the existing barriers are already so ingrained.

Sometimes it’s easier to chat about issues when doing something else, like going for a walk. It takes the spotlight off a person, especially when worked into casual conversation. Making an open conversation as accessible as possible is one of the best things you can do.

Similarly, thank someone if they do open up. As I touched upon earlier, it can be incredibly difficult to expose yourself to someone. As Kenny said, “Don’t recoil from someone’s feelings but welcome them.”

Kenny was a brilliant speaker – engaging, warm, knowledgeable and, as everyone at the event can surely attest to, a caring person. These are qualities that most, if not all, medics possess. You don’t need to be a qualified counsellor to support a loved one. Being non-judgemental, welcoming without being pushy, and a little compassionate is all you need.

If you were to ask me what the one take-home message from the talk was, I’d say it is that vulnerability shows strength. But I’ll let Kenny tell you that himself: “Vulnerability is a gift we give to others, but more importantly, to ourselves.”

Here’s the link to the talk if you’d like to watch it: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lzDXr1wr9AY-d_XRYym0daCnGQw8XjAQ/view I would highly recommend it if you have the time – he’s a brilliant speaker and manages to keep a conversational tone throughout – not an easy task when you’re essentially monologuing for an hour!

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anonymous • 1 Feb 2021

a topic that all too often gets overlooked, even by the feminist movement (men’s wellbeing still comes second to that of women’s within society) would love to see more normalisation of men’s vulnerability in film, TV and the media