Volunteer challenges social stereotypes for better mental health

July 2020

Volunteer Charlie talks about his own mental health and why he wants men to express themselves more.

One of the things I’m most certain of is that society tends to stereotype men. It tends to be quite binary, but we need to think about people being human because social conditioning is killing them. It’s why I didn’t seek help with my anxiety for six years, and I believe society needs to change.

The generally accepted view of men is very much about strength. Because of that men don’t want to show weakness, and it’s much more acceptable for women to be vulnerable. But how can you form a genuine connection with someone if you don’t share your vulnerabilities? What I’ve learned through my own experience is that it’s ok for people to put down that mask with their friends, because sharing their struggles helps.

I was bullied at school for two years, very badly bullied, both physically and emotionally. I didn’t talk about it at the time or for a long period afterwards, because I thought that the problem was with me. That as a man, I just needed to get on with it.

In the end I realised I needed help with my anxiety. This led me to read and research around the subject of positive psychology, including studying more about the negative coping mechanisms men often use as a way of dealing with their mental health. It became more and more obvious to me that it is our social norms that are so harmful.

As a way of challenging that, I spent last summer researching and writing a book, Man Down, which was published earlier this year. It’s not a route to a quick fix, but gives tips around managing mental health. I use personal stories in the book too. When I was reading about anxiety during my own recovery, personal stories resonated with me, and I hope they’re helpful to others. What I want is to encourage men, and people who know them, to open up by challenging traditional ideas of masculinity.

Although I do still have anxiety, one of the ways I help myself is through volunteering as a befriender. It helps me to help someone else. I now recognise that if I’m feeling very inward I need to think about other people. An act of kindness is one of the easiest ways to give your life meaning. But mental health is an incredibly personal thing.

You can follow Charlie on Instagram @slowdowndoless. His book Man Down is published by Chichester-based publisher Summersdale, and available from Amazon here.