This Movember, Let’s Recognise The Volunteer Mental Health Groups Filling The Gaping Hole Of This Government’s Scandalous Neglect

Austerity costs lives. Turn to men’s mental health and you’ll see how. The shattering regret, heartbreak and tears on thousands of faces. Those are the faces of mothers, fathers, siblings, sons and daughters, who can no longer see those eyes. Those are the eyes of thousands of men below 50, eyes once burning with ambition and pride, only to fade away, falling through the cracks of a broken system. That’s a system made of waiting lists, denialscries of wolf to deaf ears, and a failure to provide support, a voice, at the critical hours. It was then, every two hours in Britain last year, that a man took his life.

It’s a national tragedy. Between 2011 and 2016, a heartbreaking £105 million has been slashed in real terms from England’s mental health budget. Conservative government ministers sat in meetings and drew up this sickening list of priorities. This despite the male suicide rate rocketing between 2010 and 2013 at a rate unseen in nearly three decades.“We had to make some tough choices after the mess Lab-” yes we’ve heard the narrative, the fantasy story, enough times. But let’s be clear: Britain’s scandalous current mental health crisis is the result of political decision. Most prominent has been the spiralling inequality since 2010, building a country fit not for the future but for misery, a “punitive, mean-spirited and callous” countryfuelled by a devastating belief that community and compassion are for the birds – that’s the UN’s judgement not mine. Of the 5,821 suicides in the UK last year, three quarters were men.Many of those men could still be with us today.

It’s not just about funding, it’s about services targeting the needs of men. It’s when 271 vulnerable people with mental health difficulties pass away after going through NHS services, that we must realise that the current system is simply not grasping the complexity of men’s mental health. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition – so why is it disproportionately men who commit suicide? At a Sheffield Students’ Union guest lecture last week, campaigner and academic Brendan Stone and sociologist Will Mason were clear: our most vulnerable men desire community, and fall away from it very easily. In Will’s research into men’s mental health, the disappearance of pubs was “lamented”. Pubs are “like a church”, Brendan added, where men can meet, relax and connect. In Sheffield, a city that had its heart ripped out by deindustrialisation, the added impact of austerity and the resulting loss of this social infrastructure has been devastating. But pubs are just one victim of this cruel belief in individualism.

Mass budget cuts since 2010 have hit hardest those local authorities that were already most deprived.They’ve had to carry on funding the ringfenced areas such as child protection, so what gets cut? The early intervention services, like youth centres, community centres, and mental health services. Closed and gone. The spiral is catastrophic, like the 1,000 more pupils excluded from English state schools between 2016 and 2017. With the essential social network of school lost, the lapse into drug abuse, homelessness and violent crime is a well-trodden path. It is at this point when men need those community spaces and services to pick them up and prevent them falling through the net even further. But they’ve disappeared so we, men, are left with the palpable sense of feeling alone, folding into ourselves, with no voice and nobody to listen.

Sometimes careless governance brings out the best in people. Thousands of volunteer mental health groups and projects have sprouted in towns and cities across Britain, filling the cracks of a broken system. With the debate so focused on the national picture, the work of these local projects can be forgotten. Will volunteers at Unity Gym in Sheffield but it is community, not just weights, that fills the space. Trying to tackle the feeling of isolation in Broomhall, a troubled area of the city, the gym finds it better to let men choose how much they want to say, rather than forcing feelings out. The choice is empowering for them.

Then there’s the battle over ‘racialised’ men’s mental health. The moment violence erupts in Sheffield, a certain stigmatised racial group are plastered across The Sheffield Star, branded as ‘hoods’ – a label that these young people can all too easily internalise, falling into exclusion and the mental health spiral. But Will told me it’s these very young people who go along to the community homework club he volunteers at, cracking the stigma, resilient and determined to make a success of themselves. Brendan is involved with Sheffield Flourish, a charity running pioneering social enterprises to tackle mental health at the root – simple things like the ‘Open Door Music Group’, where anyone can come along to jam, be happy, and feel included. Our government has turned its back on the most vulnerable, but these volunteers are inspiring; they’re doing nothing less than saving lives.

Our hollowed out society is full of cracks, and many more young men have needlessly fallen through them since you began reading this. It shouldn’t be down to volunteers to compensate for a careless, despicable neglect of mental health among the people running this country. But we must recognise and respect these incredible groups in our campaign to end this national tragedy. Our efforts must outlast Movember, because no longer can Britain let the burning eyes of its young men fade.

@ewansomerville

 

See Ewan’s latest uni newspaper reporting…

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In his roles as Online News Editor and senior news reporter at Forge Press, the Uni of Sheffield’s award-winning independent student newspaper, Ewan is always working on an exclusive story or a scoop. Recently this involved his stories being on the front page of the new rebranded Forge Press for one month, for the first three editions of the year.

His latest for Forge Press can be found right here.

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‘We don’t want you baby’: thousands defy Trump on Sheffield’s streets

See this published for Forge Press here

Thousands of demonstrators descended on the streets of Sheffield on Friday night in “a sensational evening for unity and integration” protesting US President Donald Trump’s visit to the UK.

In one of the city’s largest ever protests, featured on the BBC News at 10, about 4,000 people gathered outside Sheffield City Hall in Barker’s Pool at 5pm, marched down Division Street waving placards and chanting, and applauded a host of defiant speakers.

The American President’s controversial three-day working visit ignited protests in towns and cities across the country, from Plymouth to Glasgow, with a central 100,000-strong march taking place in London on Friday.

Organised by Sheffield Together Against Trump, the people of Sheffield marched with placards reading ‘super gallous fragile racist sexist lying Potus’, adapting the Mary Poppins riddle, to ‘we don’t want you baby!’.

‘Sheffield did itself proud’

Nasaar Raoof, from Sheffield Stand up to Racism, who worked with other community activist groups to organise the rally, said it was “a sensational evening for unity and integration.”

Read more:

Trump’s itinerary attempted to avoid every protest, but a paraglider still made it into sight (picture: Flickr)

Speaking to Forge, he added: “It was a sign of great success in sending a clear message to both our government that catered for Trump and to President trump that we will let this politics of fear and hatred be preached. There was so much warmth in the crowd it was just simply amazing.”

Former leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett told Forge that Sheffield “did itself proud”, praising the “spectacular” turnout and the positive focus “on how things could and should be different, in the US and the UK.”

Sheffield went to town with its placards (picture: @emmalipton on Twitter)

In what Matthew Reeve, of Sheffield Stand Up To Racism, hailed as a “record crowd for an anti-racist protest in Sheffield in recent years if not ever,” Friday’s showing topped the 3,000 people who took to Sheffield’s streets to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban last year.

Sheffield SU, some of whose officers joined the marches, added to the chorus of support, reaffirming the “important democratic right” to protest, and hailing the strong resistance that the nationwide protests have shown.

(picture: Ali Bishop @purgargirl on Twitter)

“Trump’s consistent displays of sexism, racism, ableism, Islamophobia and homophobia are profoundly wrong, and Britain’s state welcome is unacceptable,” SU President Lilian Jones added.

Read more: Sheffield Uni’s national debut LGBT+ student halls already oversubscribed

A sprinkling of pro-Trump activists also turned out – “almost enough for a game of five-a-side,” Daniel Dylan Wray commented on Twitter.

Standing with Magid

The march formed part of Lord Mayor Magid Magid’s ‘Mexico Solidarity Day’, with nine bars across the city offering free tequila and groups seen wearing sombreros, all in response to the President’s pledge that he would build a wall between Mexico and the US.

As the Lord Mayor joined around 100,000 others at the London march, a statement read on his behalf said: “Sheffield is a city of love, a city of respect, a city where we welcome people. A city where we treat people the way we want to be treated ourselves and no ‘giant orange waste man’ is going to change that.”

It comes after Nick Stevens, an organiser from the Hope Not Hate group, told Forge on Friday that the march had added significance in showing solidarity with Mr Magid and the city’s minority communities.

The city’s show of defiance was among many others across the country across the weekend (picture: Ben Hardy @bahardy45 on Twitter)

Further speakers included Erin Keane of the Sheffield LGBT+ group, and Gill Furniss, the MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, who remembered the city’s core values as the nation’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’.

“We do not put up with this Trump nonsense. We know we open our arms to those coming to us for safety,” the Sheffield Star reported her saying.

Too powerful to ignore

In her speech, Natalie Bennett energised the crowd into thinking about the policies that will deliver “a healthier, happier society”, ending the “miserable, insecure society” that she sees neoliberalism as having created.

Thousands marched defiantly and positively down Division Street (picture: @Alice__Kirby on Twitter)

“Several people said to me that they’d been feeling depressed about the state of the world and Britain in particular, but spending time with other people determined to create and deliver change had given them a new sense of energy and determination,” she added.

Initially envisaged as an official state welcome, Trump’s hugely controversial visit was postponed several times and reduced to a ‘working visit’, although since arriving on Thursday he has still met the Queen at Windsor Castle, and enjoyed a black-tie dinner with the Prime Minister at Blenheim Palace.

The President’s extensive security entourage attempted to keep the mass protests out of view, including the 20ft ‘Trump Baby’ balloon which was flown over Parliament Square on Friday, but a Greenpeace paraglider breached a no-fly zone around his Turnberry golf course on Saturday brandishing a ‘Trump, well below par’ banner.

“It was a record crowd for an anti-racist protest in Sheffield in recent years if not ever” (picture: Ben Hardy @bahardy45 on Twitter)

Speaking to Forge, Sheffield resident Ms Bennett added: “Not only did 4,000 people turn out to show their opposition to the policies of Donald Trump and the way in which Theresa May was failing to stand against them, but they did so in a spirit of comradeship and celebration of democracy.”

Explaining the passion, organiser Mr Raoof said: “President Trump’s policies of hatred, racism, sexism and fascism will no longer go unanswered as crowds shouted he wasn’t welcome in Sheffield and should leave the United Kingdom as we do not stand for his building walls and sick caging children mentality.”

He added: “It was so refreshing to see young and old, gay/straight and all faiths walking shoulder to shoulder.”

‘Student single’ fare hike branded “deceptive” and “unfair”

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Students have hit out at “unfairness” and “deceptive behaviour” as ‘student singles’ across Sheffield increase to £1.20 just as many leave campus and return home for the Summer.

Stagecoach and First both increased the popular student fare, valid with a Ucard and a feature of many university cities across the country, from £1 at the end of May and the price hike has now been fully introduced.

It comes amid fare increases across many popular routes in Sheffield, with First saying they are encouraging travellers to book ahead and Stagecoach blaming tough economic conditions.

Dorothy Curtis, a first year Economics student, echoed the unhappiness of some students at the way the fare hike has been introduced.

“I think it’s very bad form, to do this in such a sneaky way, without telling anyone – they could have very easily put a notice up on the buses,” she said.

First says it is encouraging passengers to use their app (picture: Geograph)

“Any other company would get hammered for that kind of deceptive behaviour.”

Alison Teal, the Green Party councillor for Nether Edge and Sharrow Ward who has been campaigning on this issue, also criticised the move.

Speaking to Forge, she said: “It now costs £3 to get from Nether Edge to town. Residents have pointed out to me that, with just two people, it’s now cheaper to get a taxi from the bus stop.

“Better public transport allows people to choose to leave their cars at home, reducing congestion for all road users while improving dangerous air pollution and road safety.”

A fare hike was also tabled last year but Dom Trendall, then SU President, negotiated for the companies to reconsider.

The fare had been £1 since 2014, when it was increased from 80p to some outcry at the time.

Holly Horton, a first year Geography student, pointed out that it is a 20% increase, and that few students carry around 20p coins, saying it is “very unfair and inconvenient for many students”.

“It also is unfair on next year’s freshers who will be trying to find their way around Sheffield for the first time,” she added.

The student single fare is useful for freshers getting to know the city (picture: Geograph)

Becky Quirke, a first year Biochemistry student, added: “I don’t think it’s fair at all considering a student single isn’t that much cheaper than a regular ticket from ranmoor to the SU anyway.”

Responding to the concerns, a First South Yorkshire spokesperson said: “On 27th May 2018 we introduced new fares across South Yorkshire to encourage more customers to purchase tickets in advance of boarding the bus; our student single ticket increased to £1.20 and we offered five tickets for £5 via our mTickets app.

“We agreed with Dom Trendall the student president in 2017 to freeze the price of our £1 single ticket, with a view to reviewing this fare in May 2017. Our student fares have been mainly frozen on our mTickets app, as the weekly ticket remains at £8 and the 5 for £5 offer equates to £1 per journey.”

John Young, commercial director at Stagecoach Yorkshire, said: “Students fares have remained very low in Sheffield for many years. The current offer remains very attractive and is one of the best travel deals anywhere in the UK.

“We face a challenging economic environment due to rising operating costs, changes in lifestyles and cuts to public sector spending on buses.

“The money from fares from all our customers is reinvested into improving services so that we can continue to offer attractive, convenient and safe travel options.”

In days, Jared O’Mara reinstated then resigns from Labour

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Days after he was reinstated, shamed MP Jared O’Mara has resigned from the Labour Party saying he was “made unfairly to feel like a criminal” over abusive social media posts that were unearthed.

O’Mara was suspended from the party in October after multiple online posts were resurfaced, some dating back as far as 2002, and claims he verbally assaulted a woman.

In a chaotic week for the MP, he publicly apologised for the comments after he was reinstatedon Tuesday with a formal warning and mandatory training. In an interview on Wednesday with ITV Calendar he revealed he had made three suicide attempts.

Now resigning from the party, in an open letter to his constituents O’Mara said: “I didn’t commit any crimes, yet I have been made unfairly to feel like a criminal.

“Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for mistakes they make when they are young.

O’Mara won the Sheffield Hallam seat in 2017 from former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and in September was invited by Sheffield Labour Students to speak about his plans as one of the party’s freshest faces.

The success soon turned sour as online comments he had made in his early 20s were exposed by the Guido Fawkes political blog, drawing allegations of homophobia, racism and misogyny.

While Labour will lose a seat, O’Mara, 36, suggested he will continue as one of only two independent MP’s in Parliament, saying “I might be leaving Labour but I am still at your side.”

However, the Yorkshire Post revealed in January that O’Mara, paid more than £74,000 a year, was not turning up to his constituency office despite his parliamentary office saying he was continuing to work “very hard” for his Sheffield constituents during suspension.

O’Mara boldly claimed yesterday that “the Labour Party no longer shares my commitment to the true definition of equality and compassion”.

“I would be lying to those of you whom I represent, and those close to me like my parents and sister respectively, if I continued under the pretence that I feel there is a place of acceptance and empathy for me as a working class, underprivileged disabled man within the Labour Party,” he continued.

O’Mara opened up this week about three suicide attempts during his suspension (picture: Twitter)

“I have experienced little to make me feel welcome, understood and accepted during this last year.”

Liberal Democrat candidate for Sheffield Hallam Laura Gordon greeted the news with a compassionate plea.

“Jared O’Mara is clearly going through an acutely difficult time. We must always stand with those who are going through health and mental wellbeing challenges,” she said.

“What has happened in Sheffield Hallam has highlighted that all political parties have a duty of care both in how they approve candidates and their continued support for them after election.

“The MP for Sheffield Hallam has made a solemn promise to his constituents. Regardless of party label, it is important the people of Sheffield Hallam get the representation they need and deserve.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed Jared has decided to resign from Labour after we won the Sheffield Hallam seat from Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems last year.

“We wish him well for the future.”

@ewansomerville

1,000 expected on Sheffield’s streets against Trump with tequila flying on ‘Mexico Solidarity Day’

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Around 1,000 people are expected to take to the streets of Sheffield tonight to join nationwide shows of defiance of Donald Trump’s visit to Britain, with nine bars offering free tequila to fuel the protest party.

Hundreds will assemble at 5pm outside Sheffield City Hall for the two hour rally against the US President’s three-day working visit.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid is branding the event ‘Mexico Solidarity Day’, following his declaration last week that Trump is “banned” from the city, calling him a “wasteman”.

Nine bars including The Devonshire, The York and The Common Room are offering free tequila in unity with the Mexico Day, with Amigos and Revolucion De Cuba offering complimentary nachos.

Nick Stevens from Hope Not Hate, who helped promote the rally, said: “We’ll be looking at many hundreds, possibly somewhere close to 1000 people.

“This is about Sheffield standing together against everything that Trump represents; the racism, the misogyny and the bigotry.

“With racism seemingly on something of a march in parts of Europe, as well as the UK & US, it’s vital that the rest of us, who remain proud of our anti-racist values and committed to challenging hatred in whatever form it might manifest itself, take to the streets, show our presence and make our voices heard.”

It forms part of the dozens of protests taking place in towns and cities across all four corners of the country today, including Derby, Birmingham and Cardiff. Organisers said around 100,000 people have turned out at the fiery London march today.

Although Magid himself is at the national London demonstration, many local figures are expected to attend the march including former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

Stevens added: “I would also say that, here in Sheffield, this has taken on an added significance in recent months following the disgusting, racist backlash from some small corners of society to our fantastic new Lord Mayor, Magid.

“The majority of Sheffield have not taken kindly to attack on one of our own, so, in essence, this is about showing solidarity not only with him but also with minority communities across the city.”

‘Ashamed’ MP Jared O’Mara reveals suicide attempts after suspension

See this article published for Forge Press

Reinstated Sheffield MP Jared O’Mara has told how he made three attempts on his life after he was suspended from the Labour Party for abusive online comments, as he publicly apologised this week.

Having beaten his Lib Dem rival Nick Clegg at last year’s snap general election, O’Mara was suspended for nine months after catalogue of social media comments and postings came to light, some dating back as far as 2002, drawing accusations of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

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