On Saturday 14th October, Men’s Mental Health Day at SMHAF 2017 featured a programme of events, including short films, features and workshops, dedicated to exploring issues of mental health and masculinity. Screenings of films like Being Greene and Becoming Cary Grant – winner of Best Feature Documentary at the SMHAF International Film Awards – were received warmly, often with a distinct sense of recognition, expressed through knowing smiles and teary eyes.
The issue of men’s mental health is deeply embedded in the zeitgeist of this age. Statistics showing high rates of suicide and untreated mental ill health in male-identifying people are so widely known that, as a society, we rarely deem it necessary to discuss them. Indeed, in the face of political attacks on women’s rights and a resurgence in anti-feminism in recent years, it is no wonder that men’s issues are often met with a shrug. But, in the age of Trump and ‘meninism’, how fascinating and vital it is to examine people’s varied experiences of masculinity through the prism of mental health.
The principal lesson of the day was, for me, simple: when we define masculinity in strict terms, everyone loses. I saw a diverse array of men making art about emotions, and talking about their feelings onscreen in ways that so many men that I have known would have resisted. The arts are inherently political, and what I saw was an act of rebellion against oppressive gender stereotyping.
In a period during which gender paradigms have shifted so dramatically – and, yet, the machismo and unchecked narcissism of several male leaders threaten the continued existence of our planet – it is clear that the concept of masculinity has to be readdressed and redefined. The art I saw at this event is proof that attempts to do so can be cathartic for both the artist and the audience – regardless of gender. Indeed, the atmosphere throughout the day was joyous, and the films were received gratefully by audiences, who are so often deprived of recognisably human subjects.
Men’s Mental Health Day was a battle cry for positive change in the face of what so often, especially in 2017, seems to be perpetual regress. It made me feel hopeful.
by Alice Smith
Image by Oscar Lewis from his short film Waterfall, which won Best Animation at SMHAF 2017 and screened during Men's Mental Health Day.