On the 13th June 2016 ManMade | The Conference took place. It was a hugely powerful day where delegates got the chance to properly engage with the issue of men and suicide.
Key note speeches from both professional and personal standpoints kept the delegates firmly rooted.
After saying my goodbyes to delegates, speakers and all the supporters at this event I eventually got to sit my exhausted carcass down at a local watering hole with a pint of oddly named real ale alongside the ManMade co-founders to look through the feedback sheets.
There were the usual odd niggles regarding the menu offered, the heat within the venue, a workshop being a little too short or too long, but in the vast majority of responses the overall feeling was unanimous – ManMade had been an absolute success – a number of delegates even said this had been the best conference they had ever attended (and we didn’t even pay them!)
But something had been bothering me – it felt like something hadn’t been answered as well as it might have been on the day – and then it clicked – the one question that had been asked that hadn’t been fully explored:
“How do we get boys to talk?”
A long slow road to change
Answers to this question on the day revolved around the need for giving boys time, space, encouragement, opportunities through peer group empowerment, through training of youth peers, via education within schools as well as improving personal relationships with their adult male peers (whoever their positive adult male peers may be).
But there is a bigger challenge…a challenge that can’t be just tinkered with at the edges.
A challenge at a societal level
ManMade is an amazing programme. It gives us as men the unique opportunity to enter into conversation with other men about the world we inhabit; a world we directly affect and are directly affected by. The framework for ManMade is designed to achieve this by being both necessarily structured in format yet flexible and open in its application. Conversations can swing from the sublime to the ridiculous yet always brings about a sense of hope and well-being that is palpable for all participants.
In essence, ManMade, as a peer support programme promotes well-being. The opportunity and space to reconsider ourselves and how we fit in the world around us aids to protect us to an extent from some of the emotionally debilitating crap that life with all its broad-brush expectations will inevitably throw at us. But ManMade falls short of doing one thing, and that one thing at the moment, is “prevent” because to prevent men from getting to this point, there needs to be a much deeper sea change. A change that questions the whole notion of gender allocation. A change where gender is either totally redefined or completely thrown out (and that’s not just the male identity). To define us by deeply embedded societal norms before we even start to crawl for many men (and women too) only serves to set us up for one mighty fall.
So in answer to the question “How can we get boys to talk?” Simply put, it’s by taking a long hard look at how we define the boy and their enforced identity from the very start, at all levels, in each and every section of society and changing it BIG STYLE! A very simple solution in word but not in deed and a solution that I for one believe will not be witnessed fully in my lifetime.
In effect, we all, often unwittingly, set men up to fail because of the very nature of our taken-for-granted assumptions of them and so in effect, we all have to shoulder some responsibility for the number of suicides by men, as we all, without even realising it, are perpetuating the myth of what a man is expected to be; And no man can nor should be all that.
Written by T Rigby - Director of Forward For Life June 2016
Together, they conceptualised, designed and delivered ManMade, an innovative peer-led support service aimed at reducing male suicide. Initially piloted and recommissioned in the Midlands, the developers of ManMade are looking to establish it as an approach further afield.
Terry Rigby – Co-Founder of ManMade
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