The Mental Health World Cup Goes to the UN, Copenhagen
Mental Health World Cup #MHWC Founder Giancarlo Gaglione was recently invited to the United Nations in Copenhagen to join a discussion with World Health Organisation Policy Makers and leading researchers on mental health in men. The result is this brilliantly insightful webinar on Masculinity and Mental Health. Watch the webinar here and read Giancarlo's account below of what happened:
Seven years ago, I wrote to companies, politicians, footballers and celebrities to get their help and support in promoting awareness around suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45 after losing my youngest brother Lanfranco to the this silent killer. I didn’t get one response, and most companies felt very uncomfortable talking about the taboo. Fast forward to this week, and I’ve been invited to talk at UN City Copenhagen for the World Health Organisation (WHO) about mental health for men!
For anyone who has lost someone through suicide, you feel helpless, like you should of seen the signs, that you should have been there for them. The same thing happened with me and my family after losing Lanfranco at just 26 years old. We wanted to help and were inspired by the charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and their approach to dealing with mental health. They were trying to do things a little different, using channels that men already gravitate to, like sport, music, etc. Since 2012 we decided to host a World Cup in a day, every year, bringing men together to share the work CALM does, providing them with tools and insight all whilst raising money for the charity. It’s grown incredibly over the years starting off as a kick about in the local park growing to raising over £40k this year hosting it at Loftus Road Stadium in partnership with QPR in the Community. It was this story that members from the UN found my details through google. They liked our story, how we were using football to connect to men and how we were making a real difference.
The UN and WHO
A representative from UN City got in touch through the standard contact us page through our Mental Health World Cup website. At first I thought it was a hoax, that they wanted my credit card details to book flights etc. But slowly, slowly they revealed to me the work the WHO had been doing the past 3 years around the member states on mental health, specifically why men continue to disengage with the topic and to seek help. A team of researchers have produced a report that highlights the growing concern that more and more men are taking their own lives not just in the UK but globally. It’s also unusual that across cultures and continents, there continues to be a gap between the suicide rates of men and women, with on average men taking 3x more of their lives than of women. They wanted me to take part in a panel discussion on the topic and provide a real story from someone ‘on the ground’ to support the findings and recommendations of the report.
The talk itself lasted an hour and can be watched back in the video above. The key themes that came across from the other speakers and myself were that mental health is incredibly complex issue to solve. It’s clear that any action across the UN needs to be a coordinated effort but importantly needs to provide choice. There will be no one size fits all approach, the report highlights that men engage through different channels and also the needs of a gay young man suffering from depression will be vastly different from a elderly Muslim man suffering. A large part of my talk focused on how if we want to implement change, we need to use existing channels rather than create new ones. That’s worked really well with us using football as a place to bring men in and then providing them with the tools, information and guidance to better understand their own and others mental health. Education also played a vital part of the discussion and we were all agreed that it needs to happen much younger, from coping techniques to spotting the early warning signs, education needs to change to provide younger generations with life skills to cope with the complex world they will inherit. Finally leadership needs to play its part, there are not enough leaders in the world today who show vulnerability, the archetypal man who knows everything remains and I believe by having more role models who can open up, who can show strength by talking, we make environments safer for men to express their emotions.
Being asked to speak at the UN, to a global audience, to policy makers from around the UN was a humbling experience that I was proud to be part of. All my work over the past seven years has been focused on the UK, whilst I find our figures shocking with 89 men taking their own life every single week, there are over 25 countries that have much higher stats than us with some of the Eastern Bloc countries 4x as much. We hear a lot in the press about the knife crime epidemic in London, the threat of terrorism around the world, in my opinion there is no bigger threat to life, no bigger epidemic in the world today than suicide. Awareness has increased in the UK thanks to high profile public figures like the Royals, celebrities and footballers promoting the issue, also vast campaigns and charity initiatives have helped start to make people aware of the scale of the issue. However, we have a long way to go, awareness is only the first step, governments around the world need to raise the priority of mental health, they need to tackle it with the same gusto they would any other world epidemic. Until that happens, more men will continue to suffer in silence and we continue to scratch the surface of a vast iceberg.