As the World Cup gathers pace, comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett tell Prudence Wade why men should team up to make sure male mental health issues aren’t ignored

THROUGHOUT this summer, you're probably going to see more men crying in pubs than you have over the whole year. Why? Because it's the FIFA World Cup, and few things get more of an emotional response than football.

Even though comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett are big soccer fans and will no doubt be spending the next few weeks yelling at their TV screens, the big event has caused them to ask the question: Why are men happy to display their emotions over football, but not anything else?

Of course, there are generalisations at play here - it's not like women don't watch football and bottle up their emotions, and not every man is incapable of speaking about their feelings.

However, the sad fact of the matter is men are in the midst of a mental health crisis. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and in 2015, 75 per cent of all suicides were male.

Ranganathan and Beckett are all too familiar with this reality, and they've come together to encourage men to talk about mental health, and ask their friends how they're doing. It could save so many lives.

Why men don't talk

For Beckett, men just aren't given the right tools to express themselves. "At school, you learn how to do Pythagoras, but not how to deal with your emotions," he laughs. This is a characteristic comment from the conversation - both comedians can obviously crack a joke, but they aren't downplaying the seriousness of the subject matter.

As archaic as it is, there's an enduring social pressure for men to be 'manly'. For some reason, this means bottling up emotions, wrongfully suggesting that getting help is a sign of weakness.

"When you look at the stereotypical male relationship, it's all banter and not genuinely sharing feelings," Ranganathan explains. "This can lead to men feeling unsure about expressing any genuine concerns they might have, and it arguably makes men less likely to check in on their mates and see if they're OK."

Ranganathan was shocked by the statistics on male suicide, and so teamed up with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to encourage men to open up.

Mental health touches everyone

Ranganathan and Beckett are admirably open about their personal experiences with mental health. "When my friend took his own life, it was such a shock. I had absolutely no idea he was feeling like that," Beckett says. "We were out the week before drinking and having the best time, so it came out of nowhere."

This made Beckett realise just how damaging it is that men aren't discussing weighty issues with each other - he didn't know what his friend was going through. "It's shocking that male suicide is such a big killer - way more so than the scaremongering things you see in the news," he says.

Their personal experiences

Ranganathan and Beckett practise what they preach, and discuss their own struggles with mental health, and what they do to keep themselves healthy.

"When I first did I'm A Celebrity... I was really struggling with the pressure, because it's quite a high-profile show and I'd just started doing comedy," Beckett says. "I was feeling really down, so I went to the doctors. I went really early, because I'm an open person and can't keep a secret. I did some counselling and mindfulness meditation which really helped me, and I use this - to this day - to calm my mind down. If I hadn't gone early doors to the doctors, and had carried on working or drinking through my issues, I don't think I'd be in such a good place as I am now."

Beckett is aware that not everyone is like him and some can find seeking help more difficult, which is why he's working to normalise conversations around mental health. "I think you need to work on your mind every day, like you do with your body - it's like a muscle," he explains. "It's the same as running every day, or going to the gym."

For both comedians, it's not only important to address any issues early on, but to continually work on them. "If you finish running a marathon, you don't think you're then physically fit for the rest of your life," Beckett laughs.

Ranganathan agrees with this, and says: "I regularly go through periods of stress. When I first started doing stand-up, my dad passed away and it was difficult for me to deal with, so I sunk into a bit of a depression. When I was told about mind exercises and mindful meditation, I was very sceptical. It didn't sound like the kind of thing I would be into at all, but I did actually find it helpful. I stopped doing it as soon as I felt better, but later on, when I felt worse, I realised I need to be on top of it all the time."

It doesn't have to be a big conversation

Both Ranganathan and Beckett want to debunk the idea that talking about mental health is hard. Yes, it's a weighty subject, but it's not completely unapproachable.

"Men don't really know what to say when someone's not feeling well," Beckett says. "But in reality, all you've got to say is, 'You alright mate?' and start a conversation from there. Mental health is a big scary thing, but it's a bit more mundane and day-to-day than people think. There are different scales and levels to it."

Ranganathan nods his head and says: "People are actually looking for an opportunity to open up and talk. Sometimes, partly because of being British and partly because of being a bloke, you think, 'Oh, I'll talk about something else, because that will take their mind off it'."

  • F&F launch #MarkYourMan campaign with CALM to promote male mental health and encourage men to support each other as they would their team at the time of this World Cup. The F&F x CALM charity T-shirts are available now, in store at Tesco (£6, with £1 going to CALM).