By Ali Bean, commissioned piece from Stella Robertson
“Hello mate, how are you?”
It is a question young men do not ask each other enough and the Twitter account @UniAston is determined to change that. @UniAston is an account run by two former students who previously suffered from mental health problems and want to help stop the ever-growing numbers of male depression.
They want to use the experience of their own struggles to help other young men going through similar issues. The anonymous account was created after the pair realised how many of their friends were going through difficult times but never seemed willing to speak about it. The issue is even more relevant during lockdown and the problems that come with isolation. During the start of his own struggles, @UniAston founder “John” (not his real name) felt he could never open up to someone he knew so to help others he decided to set up the account where no one would know who they were. The aim was to show people who were struggling that this was a judgement-free area where they could freely discuss what has been troubling them and what they are struggling with.
@UniAston operates via Twitter messages, they’re available for anyone to message and often will lookout for anyone who has reacted to viral mental health tweets and reach out to them. They give everyone the same opportunity to openly discuss any issues or negative thoughts they may be having.
Speaking to one of the two @UniAston account holders, the message was clear – talk about your feelings.
The Birmingham-based “John” said: “The main thing for us is that we want people struggling to speak to someone. Whether it is us, family, friends or a therapist. Whoever it may be, just speak to someone. Every single person we talk to says even just speaking to someone makes them feel better. As long as people know about us and that we’re here for them and we care. Whatever happens, someone in life is always there for you.”
Speaking about his past mental health issues, he explained that speaking to a friend about what he was going through was the first step he took in getting better.
“For me, knowing someone was there for me to go and talk to was the main thing I needed to get out of the place I was in.”
So now, @UniAston want to be that friend. They understand that not everyone is able to or feels comfortable talking to a loved one about their mental state. “If you feel like you don’t have friends who are open enough, we are here. We have no face and we don’t judge, big or small we are here for anyone if they need us.”
Currently in the UK suicide is the single biggest killer of all males under 45 but men are less likely to use psychological therapies than women: only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are men. These are increasingly worrying statistics and times. Why are we losing so many of our nation’s young men?
It’s quite possible it all stems from the image of a typical man. Speaking to John, it’s clear the account believes communication and opening up are crucial steps needed to start to overcome mental health battles. But this is something men traditionally struggle with. The stereotype of a British man is one with a stiff upper lip, the breadwinner, strong, commanding, confident and under absolutely no circumstances can show any signs of weakness or sadness. It’s an image that’s hammered into the psyche of British youths from an early age.
“In our society, we are brought up to believe a man has to be big, strong and not show any emotion. Then we are led to believe every man has to be the same. What we’re trying to say is you shouldn’t have to be like that. We want to portray that every man is different and there shouldn’t be such a thing as a typical man.”
The variety of DM’s received and problems shared shows there really is no such thing as a typical man according to John. Every single person is different and although the messages can often be a tough read, detailing heartbreak, loss and everyday struggles. It also shows a sense of individuality. “In a way it’s amazing. It shows nobody is the same, everyone is their own individual person and that’s why this whole society, this whole spectrum of people and if they have issues or they don’t, everyone is different. I think that’s amazing. Life would be so boring if everyone had the same attributes and life would be boring.”
Now, with the account boasting over 2000 followers they are going from strength to strength. Scrolling through their feed, it’s evident they’re moving in the right direction with copious tweets from young men praising what they are doing. They often attach a screenshot of the DM they have received from @UniAston to their tweet. These tweets suggest that we as a society are moving in the right direction and showing that mental health is a topic that should be talked about.
Now looking to the future, with summer looming and lockdown restrictions soon to be lifted @UniAston’s “John” finishes our Zoom call by outlining his hopes for the future.
“More people to say how they’re feeling. Even when they are feeling great. We want boys to talk and really express their feelings. We want to hear of boys dropping their friend a message or speaking to them and for them to tell each other how they are truly feeling. If we can get that message across to speak to your friends and how good it feels to open up that’s all we can ask for. It’s OK to ask for help but it is not OK to bottle everything up.”