Men are twice as likely to take their own lives than women. Stereotypical expectations around being strong, in charge and able to solve problems can leave men feeling isolated and powerless when faced with bereavement, but grief does not know gender, and it has no quick fixes. Every 90 minutes in the UK, a man will lose his child shortly before, during or soon after birth and the feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming. Those consumed by grief may struggle with a range of emotions, an inability to concentrate, fatigue and indecisiveness, leading to further stress at home and impaired performance in the workplace. Being able to talk about the pain or connect with other men who have had a similar experience is vital, but fathers can sometimes be overlooked or struggle to find ways of getting the support that suits them. Sometimes, even if men know they need help, it can be difficult to know where to start. One silver lining amid the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is that employers are beginning to grasp mental health challenges and providing support has become a business imperative.
Global aviation services group, Air Partner, runs Mental Health First Aid Training workshops to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental ill health, boost confidence in dealing with issues and promote early intervention which enables recovery. Air Partner also supports SANDS FC, a football club devoted to providing an outlet and support network for men affected by baby loss through a shared love of sport. The initiative is supported by SANDS, the UK’s leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity dedicated to giving the best possible care to those who experience baby loss and to creating a world where fewer babies die. The charity now has 30 teams across the UK and over 450 members.
Dean Tugwell, Team Leader of Group Charter UK at Air Partner, plays regularly for SANDS United Brighton and Hove football team and was key in establishing Air Partner’s partnership with the club. Dean comments, “Grief impacts all facets of life - whether at home or work - it cannot be compartmentalised. It’s crucial that we create more peer-to-peer platforms to give those struggling a safe environment to express themselves when ready, and with every step in the right direction, we get closer to helping more men cope, on and off the pitch. Having initiatives like SANDS FC and mental health training in the workplace can give men a point of contact for dealing with emotional distress when life is far from business as usual.”
Men can find strength through physical exertion, a shared purpose, or through the dedicated safe spaces at SANDS FC. In the dressing room, the subs bench and at training, one sentence uttered by one man can make a world of difference to the wellbeing of another, as they realise they are not alone in their grief or naturally find themselves in a deeper conversation about their experience.
Andy Lindley, Chairman of SANDS United Brighton and Hove FC, adds: “I was struck by waves of grief after losing a child and family members in close succession. I became a shadow of the person I was. SANDS FC gave me a safe space to be surrounded by people like me, who have faced the same loss. A widespread culture of toxic masculinity can leave men feeling alone and unable to ask for help. In this sense, the club takes the pressure off reaching out, and brings men together to connect over a shared purpose, without judgement. Critically, the club doesn’t look to offer solutions, but aims to relate and understand. Likewise, Mental Health First Aider training doesn’t teach people to be a therapist, but like physical first aid, it teaches people to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis. It’s outlets like these that men need more of to take care of their physical, financial and emotional wellbeing in and outside of work.”