In the UK, the male suicide is the highest rate it’s been in 15 years. It also remains the case that suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45. One man who nearly lost his life to suicide is now raising awareness about the deep-seated cultural issues that nearly led him to take his own life – and which he believes are accounting for the high male suicide rate, which is now commonly referred to as an epidemic.
Nick Frendo, an avid cyclist, is now on an epic cycling journey across Europe, traveling 3,000 kilometers, in order to raise funds for the men’s charity Movember. In fact, he has already met his fundraising goal. This goes to show just how inspiring his mental health journey is, including his determination to create something positive and impactful out of his depression and suicide attempts.
Nick spoke to the magazine Cycling Weekly about his depression, suicide attempts, and why he is now trying to raise awareness about men’s mental health. In describing his own experience with mental illness, he says that for a long time he never even knew that something was wrong and that needed addressing. That was, until, his depression began to seriously impact his life. He said:
“I’d always thought I was just a bit anti-social, and a bit angry. I thought I wasn’t designed to be happy. Then, I had a few instances where things when wrong: a divorce, not being able to hold down decent friendships, work – it just got to a point where I was questioning myself a lot.”
It’s important for people to recognize that increased social withdrawal and anger may be a sign of underlying depression – and if so, shouldn’t be ignored. For Nick, his emotional health worsened, leading to various other issues in his work. In his view, this created the perfect storm that led him to feeling suicidal. Rather than seek treatment and support, Nick decided to escape the UK and move to Spain. He said:
“I ran away to Girona – I thought it would be the answer to everything. But in the end I isolated myself and things got progressively worse.”
It’s not uncommon for people with mental health issues to try to escape deep emotional pain by making big changes in their life, such as moving abroad. However, as Nick’s story highlights, this doesn’t fix the issue. And in his case, it led to an exacerbation of his already poor mental health.
On one particularly distressing day, he went on a bike ride to clear his head. But what happened is that he just became more consumed by his mental anguish. He said, “I went for a long ride, with the intention of not coming back.” His first suicide attempt was unsuccessful, yet he didn’t tell anyone about it. After his second attempt, he went home back to London and opened up about what he had been going through.
How Men Deal With Mental Health Issues
Nick strongly believes that “man up” culture fueled his downward spiral. For many other men, the story is similar. According to the mental health charity Time to Change, men are less knowledgeable than women about mental health and have more negative attitudes towards it. They’re also less likely to talk about their mental health problems. And these sorts of gender differences help to explain why, in 2018, three-quarters of suicide victims in the UK were men. Nick described how he built up a façade and hid the fact that he was suffering so much on the inside. He says, “As a man, it often feels like you’re not supposed to feel ‘that way’”.
Supporting Men’s Mental Health
Nick is currently cycling thousands of kilometers across Europe in a bid to raise funds for Movember, a charity that aims to raise awareness about men’s health issues, a major one being suicide. One of the main challenges for men is overcoming the resistance about opening up to others about one’s mental health. Yet, as Nick discovered, speaking candidly about one’s hardship can be an enlightening experience. It can also make the difference between a life continued and a life cut short. Gary Souter, an Associate Professor in Nursing who teaches about mental health, told Cycling Weekly:
“Things are changing. But with traditional masculine stereotypes, men have to put on a brave face and a lot of them do hide behind a mask. The key thing – actually for both men and women – is to talk. It’s not a sign of weakness. It doesn’t matter who you talk to, and you won’t necessarily get the answers, but it’s just nice to offload and ventilate those feelings.”
Of course, other people – not just the individual struggling – can take steps to ensure that problems are brought out into the open, rather than hid away. If you notice anyone who might be looking or acting differently than usual, ask them if everything is ok, listen to what they have to say in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner, create a plan together of how to improve things, and continue to provide support. Just one conversation can end up making a world of difference to someone’s mental health.
One of the most popular aspects of Movember is growing out a mustache. This way, guys can show their support right on their face. And hey... who doesn't love a good, dorky looking mustache?
Our editorial staff is planning on going unshaved for November. Will you be joining us?
About Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.
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