Digital Connection for Men’s Mental Health?

Yes, it’s that time of year — and the tentative moustaches on the faces of four Citizens Online employees aren’t just for fun.

Movember has arrived in full follicle force. ‘Ci-tache-zens Online’ (as our band of hirsute digital inclusion experts are calling ourselves) are fundraising as part of the campaign and offering particular support to The ManKind Project alongside the Movember Foundation.

John, James, Francis and I are all hoping our hilarious and/or hideous whiskers will prompt useful conversations about men’s mental health and the high rates of suicide among men. Mental health has been a focus of Citizens Online’s work in the past and we plan to continue to address the topic in our future work, as we develop our resources on digital health as a whole.

Suicide remains the biggest cause of death for men between the ages of 20 and 49.

More men in this age bracket die from suicide than from road accidents, cancer or heart disease.

Digital inclusion and mental health

Our research on digital inclusion often shows that those who are digitally excluded are also more likely to be socially excluded and to experience mental health issues.

In 2010, Citizens Online collaborated with Local Government Improvement and Development to produce an ESD toolkit profiling vulnerable groups and relationships with digital exclusion. We emphasised that:

For an individual who is suffering from a Mental Health Problem, remaining connected within society is a key to managing the environment and emotional factors contributing to the issues.

The impacts of the digital age on mental health are complex. Technology offers us a wealth of ways to “remain connected”, and many other benefits including health information and support, and time-saving and stress-busting apps (a list of online resources is included at the end of this piece).

Earlier this year the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published research on social media and well-being which found that:

Young people can connect with others to improve their social skills online, develop their character and resilience

The research further emphasised that those with mental health problems are also able to seek support on the internet, either through social media networks or through the online provision of advice and counselling support. For example, 78% of young people contacting the organisation Childline now do so online. Many people with experience of mental health issues are able to find support in the anonymity that social media platforms can offer, which they couldn’t otherwise find in their lives.

It is not only support services that can be accessed online, campaigns like Time To Change and Movember itself provide opportunities to reduce the stigma, shame or isolation people may feel because they have a mental health problem, through large-scale conversations that can change how we all think and act about mental health.

The digital divide

However, as the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) describe in their report on social media and mental health:

There are also risks, risks which if not addressed and countered, can and have already opened the door for social media to cause significant problems.

The internet can expose those who are vulnerable to risky, addictive and other potentially damaging behaviours. The RSPH highlight potential issues of poor quality sleep, body image, cyber bullying and Fear Of Missing Out (FoMO). Being connected to more people can mean excessive anxious attention on comparing our lives with those around us, heightening the negative as well as the positive consequences of connection.

The EPI report emphasises that:

Equipping young people with sufficient digital skills to help them navigate the internet and new technologies safely is vital.

It is this — ensuring people, whatever their age, have the skills to access and experience the benefits of online services that is Citizens Online’s core purpose.

Mankind Project (UK & Ireland)

As well as contributing to the Movember Foundation, I’m raising funds to directly support a charity I volunteer for: The ManKind Project.

The ManKind Project (MKP) provides a range of training courses and a network of support and community for men who come to MKP either because they want to make a positive change in their lives or because they feel something is missing. Men may be in crisis or be experiencing longer term issues with their emotional wellbeing.

For many men, MKP training is their first experience of being able to explore and work with their own internal emotional or ‘feeling’ nature in a safe environment.

A man’s introduction to MKP happens through a stand-alone, long-weekend men’s training event (called “The Adventure”). This is designed to equip a man with personal tools and skills for resilience and mental wellbeing in his own life, his work and in the communities in which he lives.

Funds donated via my JustGiving page will support subsidised places on The Adventure weekends, helping those on low or no incomes access this great resource and potentially life-changing experience.

How you can help

Donate to the Ci-tache-zens Online Movember team here.

Learn more about the Movember campaign.

If you need help

If you’ve been affected by issues around mental health and suicide, you can find help and advice via:

  • CALM — The Campaign Against Living Miserably, which is dedicated to preventing male suicide
  • NHS Choices provide a range information on a variety of topics relevant to mental health
  • MIND — who provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem
  • Samaritans — who offer a confidential, round-the-clock helpline for people to talk any time, in their own way — about whatever is getting to them
  • Headspace — a personal mindfulness and meditation guide in app form