Today is the day to appreciate and celebrate the men in our lives

Today is International Men's Day – it is a global event that is celebrated in more than 70 countries to raise awareness about issues – especially mental health – that men face on a daily basis, writes Leona O'Neill

Men plenty an important role as dads in family life
Leona O'Neill

Today is International Men’s Day, and as the wife of a man; the daughter of a man; the sister of a man; and the mother of three young men, I wanted to mark and celebrate this special day.

Much is made of International Women’s Day every year. There are huge events celebrating women and their achievements – and rightly so. I have taken part in many of them myself.

Women are championed on this day for their strength and resilience, their innovation – they are empowered and cheered on on a global scale – and it is amazing.

I am delighted that men have also been celebrated in the same way for the last number of years.

International Men’s Day will raise awareness for male suicide. It seeks to address many different issues surrounding men’s mental health. It is supported by men, women and organisations in more than 60 countries across the globe and in many ways it complements the absolutely amazing Movember campaign – November is the month we focus on raising money for men's health.

Anyone who has men that they love in their lives can only appreciate what these campaigns are trying to do. Our men, young and old, have been told for years that they must ‘man up’, suppress their feelings, not talk about their emotions and ‘be strong’. Anyone who has a man in their life knows how difficult it can be to get them to visit their doctor over a health concern.

These campaigns have been ceaselessly trying to smash the stigma surrounding talking about their mental and physical health. The Movember campaign is an ingenious way to get the discussion going about men’s mental health in particular. There is nothing like a big Magnum-esque moustache to spark a conversation about the issue.

Male suicide is a particularly worrying issue here in the north. Our male suicide rate is far too high. We are losing too many of our men to mental health issues that could very well be tackled and prevented if men had access to professional help.

There are six pillars to International Men’s Day. Organisers want to promote positive male role models – not just movie and sports stars – but everyday working-class men who are living their lives and contributing well to their families, cities, communities, countries and environment.

They aim to focus on men’s health and wellbeing – social, physical and emotional – and to highlight discrimination against men in general. They aim to improve gender relations and promote gender equality and create a safer, better world where people can be safe and grow to their full potential.

Ten years ago this month my father died of prostate cancer. It was a horrible, cruel disease that took everything from him before it eventually took him from us. Like many men, he was reluctant to go to the doctor about health worries. Like many men, he no doubt felt embarrassed about going, felt pressure to just carry on, that running to the doctor wasn’t what men do, they just get on with things and ‘man up’.

I am thankful that campaigns like Movember and International Men’s Day will smash those taboos, that it will crush the myth that it’s not manly to seek help on health issues or talk about their mental health. We all should get behind these campaigns for the men we love. It is crucially important to let our men, young and old, know that we love them and want them to be healthy and well, and be part of our lives, so they need to look after their mind and body.

If you do one thing today, on International Men’s Day, give the men in your life a big hug. Tell them how much you appreciate what they do for us in our families, about the light that they bring to our lives, and how much we appreciate how they work alongside us strong women to make life great for us and our children.

And encourage them to talk to us about their mental and physical health. What we all want is for our men to realise that such conversations are normal and everyday. Break the silence.

Happy International Men’s Day.

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