November: A Look at Men’s Health
Emily De Vogele and Cameron Phillips
November – sometimes known as Movember – is Men’s Health Month in the UK. According to Movember.com “Globally, men die on average five years earlier than women and for reasons that are largely preventable. Which means that it doesn’t have to be that way: we can all take action to live healthier, happier and longer lives.” Talking about health can be scary for anyone, which is why it’s critical we start having these conversations more openly. Literature and works of fiction that feature these topics can help to destigmatise them.
Cameron: Man Down: A Guide For Men on Mental Health by Charlie Hoare
I’ve been absolutely battered from pillar to post in the time since I graduated in late 2019 until now. The search for a proper career after my post university plans fell apart left me feeling worthless and quite frankly, hopeless. As I write this, one part of the problem, which is connected to the widest issue that men face with their mental health, rears its ugly head. I have loving parents, some wonderful friends, a part time job I don’t despise, a warm house and food. As a result, I tell myself that I’m fine, I should be grateful and just “get on with it.” But contrary to social belief, that mentality is not healthy, and it eats away at you slowly; death by a thousand cuts.
Charlie Hoare’s Man Down: A Guide For Men on Mental Health has been a favourite listen of mine. One aspect of mental health that is particularly difficult for me is the overwhelming nature of it. The most strikingly beneficial part of listening to this book is the episodic nature of the advice on offer. When my mental health overwhelms me, one method I use is to break my day down and the tasks within them, which enables me to tackle things one at a time, instead of juggling my worries. In this regard, the book’s small snippets of advice are incredibly useful in mirroring this approach. Subjects range from insecurities and anxiety, to communicational issues and societal pressure. Mental health is a very individual thing, and the ways in which we deal with it much the same. In my case, I do not need to read or listen to a Freud-esque figure to psychoanalyse me for an hour, I just need advice to be short, simple, effective, from a place of support, love and comfort. Hearing a male voice, Mike Paul, narrate these titbits is comforting. Female support has always been the bedrock which many men use to deal with mental health. I know it’s certainly the case for me that it is a couple of my female friends who have that role for me. However, if men are really going to tackle this problem, then it is the relationships between men that must change. Men should be compassionate, loving and vulnerable with each other to facilitate communication and support for one another. This book for me contributes to amending this issue.
Despite the above, I am in a much better place than I was twelve months ago, through mental health exercises, rediscovering my passions and the continuous support from my wonderful friends. Audiobooks have been very useful in this sense. I still have a long way to go, but as another December approaches, I feel in a better place to really attack 2022.
I would like to dedicate this piece to all my friends who continue to support and encourage me, and also to Chelsea, Rory McNeil, Emily and Paige, who afford me a platform to do something I love.
Emily: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Building on what Cameron said, I wanted to talk about a female written book that features the important conversations surrounding men’s physical and mental health. While Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is known for an abundance of wonderful things, I think it’s important to examine it from the perspective of men’s health. Kaz Brekker, known for his ruthless ambition, uses a cane to walk. This is something that is emphasised throughout the duology and in the TV series adaptation. He is not seen as weaker or less able because of this, it is instead a part of his character, something that is always included in fanart and discourse surrounding Brekker.
The book features vital discussions about mental health, particularly men’s mental health. Trauma, depression, anxiety and abusive relationships are all topics that the four main male characters deal with. Again, they are not reduced to simply their mental struggles, but rather they are a part of their characters. I know for me, this was the first time I had seen such conversations being had around male characters in a young adult fantasy novel. Similarly to Man Down, hearing the male narration of the audiobook furthers the impact of these scenes and conversations.
I cannot begin to stress enough the importance of these topics, I have seen hundreds of social media posts detailing the way Six of Crows has helped readers feel comfortable talking about their own mental health struggles. It has also highlighted the underrepresentation of male characters with physical and mental health conditions in literature, especially young adult fantasy. As a woman, I can’t begin to understand the complicated layers of toxic masculinity and how this affects men’s health in society. But as a reader, I can make more of a conscious effort to support books that highlight these issues.