Three times as many men die by suicide than women, but only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are from men. Two statistics which together paint a grim picture of the disparency between the way different genders respond to their mental wellness. While society has seen a definite shift towards the acceptance of men’s mental health issues in recent years, saddening statistics like these prove that there is still a real issue with men seeking the support they need.
Man Down is a programme that has been set up with a goal to further erode the toxic stigma that is intertwined with masculinity within the mental health space. The programme provides guidance for people who identify as men to get support in their local community and runs pop up events that aim to spark conversations and provide friends and family members with tools to spot signs of depression in males who may not readily volunteer their feelings.
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Recently the Man Down programme premiered a feature-length documentary at London’s House of Vans which highlighted the pressures of working in the music industry, the screening was followed by a live Q&A with DRS, who appeared in the film.
“It was really good, ” began the Manchester-based drum and bass MC after Clash ask how he found the event. “Obviously, it was a bit mad, because the audience has just watched a film where you’re at your most vulnerable, and then me and the other guy who is in the film walked into the theatre and they asked us questions. Basically, you see me at the beginning of the film and I’m a mess, a drug addict, an alcoholic. It finishes two years later and it’s like two different people. The first person, I’m trying to crawl into myself and the second person I’m just so full of life, it’s fucking crazy. But that’s what I signed up for, I wanted to raise awareness for other people. Most of the time I’ve got somebody in my mind, who I know is going through something, if it’s not me it’s someone close to me that I’m worried about. It’s a real rollercoaster being in the entertainment business.”
It’s clear from watching the film that the music industry is a tough place to navigate. Touring is mentioned repeatedly by the men interviewed throughout the film. The lack of stability that constantly being away from home creates, mixed with an intense workload, countless late nights and the conveyer belt of drink and drugs that stream through after-parties makes for a heady mix of mind tangles. However, when we ask DRS about his mental health triggers he is clear that social media adds the most devastating weight.
“The age of social media has changed us, our brains just weren’t developed to take in so much information every day. Also, it’s the constant comparing yourself to what everyone else is doing. You just can’t help it, more time you can hold your ego down, but it hurts if you see someone doing better than you, or you see all these things that people have got that you haven’t. Then add family life, then add your career, then add your beef with your next-door neighbour, then add your car doesn’t work… and then your head pops. It happens. Some people bury their heads in the sand but at some point, it will all fall down, we can only spin so many plates.”
Absorbing his comments and releasing how relatable we find them, we ask the rapper if he thinks being a musician adds an extra layer of pressure to his life. He pauses thoughtfully before answering. “I think in music or any of the arts industries, you’re laying your soul out. When we release something, it’s like ‘here, here’s my heart, have a look inside’. The stress of people and trolls having opinions on your work, or maybe it not doing as well as you hoped it would have when you’ve put so much work into it, the anxiety you’ve gone through releasing it. All that added with normal life pressures… It’s hard.
“I’m not saying people in other industries don’t have pressures because they do, but the Man Down Programme is pointing a light on something that hasn’t really been shown before. The film provided a space where I could take a knee and say “I’m going through it”. And those moments are few and far between because the music industry can be such a testosterone-driven scene. People tend to just paper over the cracks, but at some point, those cracks need addressing.”
We’re curious to know how DRS stopped papering over the cracks and began to heal. “When I was getting on it all the time, I was masking a lot of grief.” He speaks with a slow and sincere meter. “I’d lost Marcus Interlex, Salford John and a few family members and I was using the grief as an excuse, which people are entitled to do. But one day I thought ‘why am I doing this?’ and then my ego started talking again, “Yo, you’ve lost people, things aren’t going well, go and get high”. That day I thought, I’m using people I love passing as an excuse to abuse drink and drugs and it really hurt me. It really hit home. When I answered myself truthfully it was shocking enough to make a change.”
Reflecting on the internal strength and brutal self-honesty it must have taken to come to such a poignant realisation, we quickly flit between feeling happy that DRS was able to save himself from this destructive lifestyle and feeling helpless about the fact that some men never make it through.
“It can be too late sometimes. I’ve had those thoughts too,” he retorts in sombre tones. “I’ve been to the brink, but it was always the thought of my children which kept me going. In my mind, I was thinking “You’re going through this now, but you will get better for them”. I think this programme is more helpful to people around family or friends who are struggling so they can notice the signs. I don’t think people will speak up any more than they have been, but I hope they do. People look at me like I’m some macho, big street dude from up North, and I’ve had to ask for help. I hope somebody will see that and know that it’s ok to speak out. If not I hope the programme will at least indicate signs to look out for.”
As we watch DRS spark his second spliff of the interview we return to his earlier point of cutting out all alcohol and abandoning harder drugs. We ask if this decision was spurred on by the lockdowns enabling him to stay away from those pill-and-powder-filled green rooms. “Kind of.” He pauses before starting again. “I had a couple of really bad turns with drink and drugs, so I was already thinking about stopping and then when the pandemic began, I started getting sober without really knowing it was happening. With my alcohol addiction, it wasn’t like I’d wake up and drink a bottle of vodka or something, it was just from Thursday to Sunday night I would not stop drinking. Bottles and bottles and bottles of Hennessy and brandy. Then I’d go home, feel like shit until Thursday and do it all over again. At first, I didn’t even notice I had a problem because I wasn’t drinking every day, but the way I was drinking was silly. I also realised the drinking was linked to the whole anxiety of getting on stage, I got pissed and high so I could be this character that everyone wanted to see. When I say character, I was being myself, but just not showing my vulnerable version.”
Considering that DRS has an imminent national headline tour heading up his own band and leading the stage, Clash asks if performing feels different without his go-to Dutch courage crutch. “It feels totally different.” He responds immediately. “The little things power you rather than the drink and drugs, like seeing people go sick. I never used to look at the audience, because of fear or whatever. If I was rapping and I’d locked eyes with someone it would knock me out, I’d totally forget what I was talking about. But now I look in the crowd and I find the joy in little things. You can see couples trying to get on to each other, or dancing mad, it’s like watching the telly, now I see all the details of the dance and I feel everything. At first, it was hard, but what’s strange becomes normal.”
If you identify as a man and think you may need some support with your mental health, please don’t suffer in silence, there are many resources available to you including the NHS and the Samaritan’s. You can also head over to the Man Down Programme website, or visit one of their forthcoming film showings. Someone will be there for you.
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Get involved with Man Down HERE.
Words: Whisky Kicks
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