The Blue Ribbon Foundation – Director Tom Webb’s Guest Blog
Men don’t talk about their feelings. That may seem like a sweeping generalisation and I know a lot of men reading this will say “I do!” but that statement has been ingrained into our society for centuries. One of the biggest challenges making my documentary The Easy Bit was finding men who would talk. Not just talk to me but to a camera and put themselves out there. I spoke to a lot of men who would open up about their experiences of infertility but when it came to the question of doing it on camera only the six men in the film agreed. I understand why, there is a big difference in talking to one person as opposed to a large audience via a film.
What this process really highlighted to me is that men will talk, but only when they feel safe. Safe from judgement, safe from being compared to the masculine ideal. There is a lot of pressure on men to act a certain way or enjoy certain hobbies or sports. Talking about emotions, mental health and taboo topics such as infertility is the antithesis of a lot of the day-to-day societal pressures of fitting in as a man.
Although my wife and I had been through our own infertility journey, I did wider research for the film outside of my own experience. It was really eye opening just how little information I found. Most of the books I looked at had at most a chapter and sometimes as little as a few sentences devoted to the men going through treatment. I did find one piece of research, conducted by Dr Esme Hanna and her colleagues at Leeds Beckett University, in which they looked at how men seek support. My overriding take away from that piece of research was that men tend to prefer and seek peer to peer support rather than professional therapy.
This is where we stumble across a problem. How do men get peer to peer support when they are seeking help for an emasculating issue like infertility, a taboo subject that very few people talk about at all. It takes a huge leap of courage for a man to reach out to a peer under those circumstances. So, what is the answer?
We need safety. Safe spaces where men can find other men who have similar experiences. Whether that is online forums or zoom groups or in person meetings. Peer to peer is just the start though, that needs to be backed up with access to professional counsellors and therapists.
I belong to a private Facebook group called Men’s Fertility Support you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mensfertilitysupport
It is a fantastic peer to peer support group. A safe place where men can feel free to say whatever they are feeling. I think for a lot of those men the group is all they need, a place where they don’t feel alone, but for others it is a stepping stone towards getting professional help. The reason I made The Easy Bit was so that men going through fertility treatment would know they are not alone and it’s ok to talk, but this applies across the board. Men’s mental health is becoming more and more recognized as an issue and the rates of suicide in men are alarmingly high. We need help but are made to feel like we aren’t supposed to ask.
The Easy Bit is available on Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand.