When was the last time you saw your best mate? Last night? Last month? Either way, you already know it’s good to talk to them. But if you’re a cis man too, the last conversation you had with your best male friend may have covered familiar ground. Music. New films. What so-and-so is up to now. And then… well, see you next time, mate, nice one. Because there’s an unspoken connection between friends, isn’t there, and all too often meeting up is about reinforcing that, rather than exploring new ground. That’s why a best mate is a best mate; they know everything about you, and you about them. But if that’s the case, why is was it reported last May that 11 percent of 1,200 men in Britain, surveyed as part of a Spotlight on Men month, said they felt lonely on a daily basis? And that 35 percent of the men surveyed said being lonely made them feel depressed?
CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) wants to change this. Over the past few years, the charity has been offering professional support for anyone going through a rough patch and trying to get people to open up in the process. Now they’re upping the ante with a new campaign called the #BestManProject. Put simply, the idea is that you needn’t wait until your mate’s wedding to be their best man. Rather than finally telling them how much you appreciate them in your speech, then never touching on it again for the rest of your lives, we should all make an effort to talk openly more often, and in doing so we might help each other live with the ups and downs life sends our way. “Men are allowed to be honest and generous with their friendships once and only once in their lifetimes; when they’re somebody’s best man,” Simon Gunning, CALM CEO says to me. “But if we talk more often we might be able to head off those terrible statistics that we talk about all the time.”
People like Prince William and Rio Ferdinand have joined the campaign, but for our purposes one of its most vocal advocates is 23-year-old south London rapper Loyle Carner. He sat down opposite his best mate, Tommo, to answer a few increasingly intimate questions on-camera about their friendship for the charity’s ‘Best Man project,’ The pair are one of several took part, including British comedian Humza Arshad with his friend Dhanny and radio host Ronan Kemp with his friend Charlie. So we’re premiering Loyle and Tommo’s video now, to amplify the conversations men – and straight cis men in particular – need to be having about their feelings with the people they trust.
When CALM asked if Loyle wanted to be part of the project, he didn’t hesitate. “CALM is a charity I’ve known about for a long time,” Loyle tells me over the phone. “They did something when I was at school. Boys in my class had all been through some bleak shit, and we sat down and started talking about it and wrote this short play. I thought that was really important.” But while Loyle has been talking about his mental health since his school days, this isn’t the case for a lot of others. It’s well publicised that men don’t talk as openly about their mental health as much as women do. The stats paint a pretty shocking picture:25 percent of us in Britain will suffer a mental health problem at sometime in our life, and in 2016 men were more than three times more likely than women to die as a result of suicide. Though everyone's case is different and unique, you could conclude that we often struggle to open up, even when at crisis point. And by then, in many cases, it’s already gotten too much.
“Loads of things stop guys talking,” says Loyle. “People are caught up in certain ideas of masculinity. In the parts of London where I grew up, there weren’t many male role models doing something positive. So as a teenager, you might have a lot of responsibility; you might be the man of the house, looking after your family. And when you have to be strong for everyone else, it’s seen as a weakness to be upset.”
The takeaway, he says, is letting men know that being able to talk to someone and feeling comfortable doing so may not be an easy thing, but it is half the battle. And once you do start talking, it’s hard to stop. Naturally, rap music offered some guidance for Loyle. “Common is my favourite rapper of all time. He says that when you’re being weak you’re really being strong because you’re opening yourself up to real pain.”
Sounds simple, right? But the reality, of course, is that not everyone has a best friend, parent, neighbour, colleague they can speak to. For the most part, we’re living more solitary lives than ever. As well as that, a symptom of depression can be a sense of worthlessness, which can in turn discourage a person from approaching others. You may have mates, but why would they want to hang out with you? And so you retreat, and as a result it becomes harder and harder to talk. But it’s important to try and brush that aside: do it anyway. It could be as simple as a text to whoever your closest friend might be – even if you wouldn’t class them as a best pal – saying “Hey mate, how’s it going. I feel a bit weird today. Have you got a minute?” Loyle advises the same thing: “Talk whenever you feel comfortable. You don’t want to feel like you’re under scrutiny. Go to the pub, go to their house, talk while you’re watching the football. Get a coffee. Go where there’s something else to do if you get embarrassed.”
And, always remember that while you might be strong enough to open up, your friend might not have experienced this themselves or have the same emotional strength to offer constructive support. All this means is that you’ve just spoken to the wrong person. “It’s very discouraging if you pluck up the courage to say ‘I’m feeling like this’ and the person says ‘Sorry mate, I don’t understand,’” says Loyle. “What’s important there is finding someone else to talk to, you don’t have to find just one person to talk to! Everyone’s been through different things. If you have a father then chat to them. Speak to a teacher at school who you look up to.”
Basically, as daunting as it sounds, it’s important to get that first conversation out the way, then keep talking and talking. And CALM is there to help with that. “If people sign up to the #BestManProject, we’ll enter into a relationship and give on-going support,” explains Simon. “We want to normalise conversations about how you’re feeling, and the campaign should never end. We don’t want to dwell on the horror of male suicide, we want to offer a solution. Depression affects men and women, so let’s start shining light into darkness and start celebrating being a bloke whether you’re Loyle Carner, Grayson Perry or the bloke that comes to fix the fridge.”
“We need to accept that every man cries,” Loyle adds. “We get our hearts broken, these things do happen, and they do affect you. Accept that over time bad shit will happen and it’s OK to be upset about it.” So next time you see your friends, know you can talk about something real for a bit, before turning to the usual topics. You might just save your life, and theirs. And that’s not only worth talking about, but shouting about too.
CALM is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the single biggest killer of men in the UK. The charity’s free, confidential and anonymous UK helpline (0800 58 58 58) and webchat are open every day, from 5PM to midnight. If you need support, or know someone that might, more information is available here. You can sign up to the Best Man project here.
You can find Tom on Twitter.