Just as women have their own day to recognise issues specific to their gender, on November 19th, over 60 countries will celebrate International Men’s Day with numerous events, health awareness opportunities and debates about issues facing men around the world. On and around this day, charities that work with men can highlight the problems faced by them each day and the ways in which we can all make a difference to give men and boys better life chances.

This year the focus is on men’s health and the challenges faced by marginalised men in society – two areas in which Freedom Community Alliance have an interest and work hard to cause positive change. Considering that 85% of rough sleepers are male and men have a higher suicide rate than women (76% of suicides are by men), setting aside a day to discuss how men and boys can be better supported to be their best and have better life chances is more important than ever.

 

Most Homeless Individuals are White Males

A Homelessness Health Needs Assessment carried out by Devon Health and Wellbeing found that individuals who experience chronic homelessness, often sleeping rough for long periods and returning to the streets after short periods of housing aid, tend to be white males who are substance abusers. A record of homeless participants in the research for this report showed that 216 of the 259 participants described themselves as white British and 87 of them were from North Devon.

Substance abuse and mental ill-health are common among the homeless population and sometimes these issues can cause or exacerbate homelessness. Getting to the root causes of these issues and addressing men’s needs in a holistic manner are just two of the ways in which a difference can be made in men’s lives. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are quite common amongst men who are homeless or battling with addiction – stories of abuse, neglect and coping with parents who have problems with alcoholism or substance abuse are prevalent, often being given as an explanation for their own heavy drinking or drug use. While most individuals acknowledge that this type of behaviour doesn’t help them build or maintain relationships and ‘normal’ lives, no alternative has been given, learned or explored.

Our work around mindfulness and helping people learn how to love and forgive themselves and others for past actions and hurts aims to address some of the root causes that can leave men with poor physical and mental ill-health. Understanding our own behaviour and changing the way we think about difficult situations – why we react, or act, in a particular way are some of the first steps of empowering ourselves to make the necessary changes for a brighter and more resilient future. These activities address our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being in a way that enables individuals to move forward from a particular event and achieve ‘wholeness’.

ACE issues aside, boys can be given mixed messages about how they are supposed to behave from the media, society and education system. For example, always needing to be strong and never showing weakness, or that they are less able to achieve academically and should focus on sport because of their gender. This can cause boys to become a bit lost as men and increase their stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction with life as adults; even causing men to become withdrawn, back away from relationships and offers of support, through the fear that they will appear weak or ‘unmanly’. Coupled with other negative stereotypical portrayals of men such as the ‘action man’ or conversely the ‘bungling father’, messages can become quite toxic and damaging for attaining self-realisation and finding a role and place within our communities that they’re comfortable with. When considered from this perspective, it is hardly surprising that men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and the community, while 46% of men with mental health concerns are embarrassed and ashamed of their situation.

Helping Men Become More Resilient

To combat this unhelpful view of men and masculinity we believe creating a non-judgemental space for people to address their issues – either past or present - is essential. This is why we ensure the environment at our Day Centre in Barnstaple is open, friendly and above all non-judgemental. By allowing people to let go of their worries about not meeting a preconceived idea of who or what they should be, they are able to talk openly, helping them to realistically address any issues that are holding them back from their goals and seek help to create a stable future.

Over the coming months, our Day Centre will begin to hold a number of different activities that men (and women) can join in with to increase their mindfulness and allow them to address negative thought patterns and behaviours. In turn, this will improve men’s mental health, allowing them to address past issues and current unhelpful behaviours. This approach gives men the chance to develop more positive behaviours, positive thought patterns and process feelings in ways that will increase personal resilience and deal with life’s problems effectively.