I am afraid my arithmetic is not as good as yours, Mr Bailey, but I have a fairly short speech. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I would like to have said it is a pleasure to follow Philip Davies, and it is good to know that his sense of grievance is alive and kicking.
I know International Men’s Day was earlier this month, but we are debating it today. According to its UK website, the day
“provides a fantastic opportunity...to...Highlight some serious issues affecting men and boys and their wellbeing...Make a difference to men and boys’ lives....Celebrate...men and boys in all their diversity...Have some serious fun”.
The day is overseen by six volunteers who are involved in a range of British charities and academia, and all of us should be grateful to them for the hard work that has gone into the day.
I want to start by highlighting one of the serious issues affecting boys and men: mental health and wellbeing. There have been many suicides within my constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw in the past year. As a community we felt helpless, frustrated and confused, and have looked for someone to blame. In our communities the trauma has had a ripple effect, which is still going on. Many departments and agencies have supported our communities and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you. I should say that all the suicides were of young men.
I know from meetings with Chris’s House, Families and Friends against Murder and Suicide, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and North Lanarkshire Council’s suicide prevention team that much proactive work is already being carried out on suicide. The big question that remains unanswered is why so many people, especially young men, choose to end their lives. Unfortunately it is in the nature of suicide that many questions remain unanswered. Deprivation, life traumas and mental illness can be key factors, but not everyone is known to agencies before attempting or completing suicide. Men aged 34 to 54 are more likely to complete suicide, and that may often be due to men being less likely to talk about their feelings and mental health. The age group in question is most likely to suffer relationship breakdowns resulting in decreased income, child maintenance payments or turning to drugs or alcohol, which can lead to the stigma of unemployment or homelessness.
The players of Scottish premiership football club Motherwell wear suicide prevention logos on their shirts. Players have made a video to encourage men to open up and talk about their feelings. Suicide prevention helpline numbers are displayed throughout the stadium. MPs need to speak openly about the issues and encourage our constituents to do the same. All my staff have had “safe talk” training, so as to be able to spot the indicators, encourage difficult conversations and signpost for help. Those interventions can save lives. In Scotland one in 10 people at any time is having suicidal thoughts. Thankfully the majority do not act on them, and many seek help. The Scottish Government have poured money into suicide prevention. We are all concerned for our communities and should be suicide-alert.
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Shipley suggested, I am going to talk about domestic abuse, which knows no boundaries of gender, culture, class, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or belief. It continues increasingly to affect people in LGBTI+ relationships, members of ethnic minority groups and men. It remains under-recognised, under-acknowledged and under-funded in the communities in question. In my constituency I work with Sacro and Fearless, both of which have received lottery funding. Fearless reaches out to those people who are less inclined to seek access to domestic abuse services. It offers practical support in getting access to a range of supports including housing and health services, and support appropriate to inclusion with someone’s community. Fearless recognises that men too are increasingly victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I thank Nikki Beardsmore and her team for their work in that area.
Male role models are important to young men and boys, and not everyone is as lucky as my two sons were. It was the greatest tribute that my younger son could give his father when he said that his dad’s legacy was the way he brought up his three children, and that he wanted to do the same with his family. Role models are what boys who do not have good dads need. That is why it is important that men in public life—especially first-class sportsmen—take cognisance of the fact that young men and boys adulate and mimic their behaviours. My father was a typical Scot who did not share his feelings and who harboured suicidal thoughts as a result of his war experiences. It affected his entire life thereafter and he only once talked about his service. We need to break away from that stereotypical male buttoned-up approach to mental health and emotions. Men need to be more like women.
Last Saturday I hosted an evening with some girlfriends. We met at 6 and were still talking at 11.30 when male drivers arrived to pick up their partners. We discussed our health, children and experiences of work. I of course do not have a proper job. I am something of an object of curiosity to those friends, who have known me a long time. They find my status as MP quite puzzling. My point is that we talked and shared experiences. I got a lot out of the evening and I hope my friends did too. I know that that close circle will help to sustain me through difficult times. For International Men’s Day I hope that many men will change the habit of a lifetime, open up to those close to them and enjoy what women have known for centuries—the fact that a problem shared is a problem halved.