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Every year on 10th October, we mark World Mental Health Day - a day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and bringing together people, communities and organisations in their efforts to support those who are struggling to cope.

With this year’s focus on ‘mental health in an unequal world’, we took the opportunity to speak to Maggie Hureau, Head of Social Impact at men’s grooming and shaving brand, Harry’s, about their global commitment to improving access to mental health resources for 1.5 million men by 2024. Harry’s donates 1% of its sales to not-for-profit organisations that promote better mental health care for men and, to date, has donated over $5 million to 14 charities worldwide.

As part of this drive, Harry’s has partnered with Mental Health Innovations on two UK initiatives. The first involved our providing a bespoke service to enable any man in the UK to access immediate, free and confidential mental health support by texting ‘MATE’ to 85258 any time of the day or night. Our second saw the launch of our Let It Out behaviour change campaign which aims to ensure that young Black boys and men have accessible routes to the support they need, when they need it.

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Maggie Hureau, Head of Social Impact at Harry's

Why is improving men’s access to mental health support important for Harry’s?

In 2018, we reviewed our social impact model and looked at which cause area we wanted to focus on. We started by looking at who we serve everyday - and that’s men. Then we researched the issues that particularly affect men and mental health was a key concern. In the US, men die by suicide 3.6 times as often as women [3.1 times as often in England] and certain populations of men, such as young Black men, are again disproportionately affected by mental ill-health and access to support. We also asked our not-for-profit partners, who serve men and talk to men everyday, what they felt was the biggest challenge men faced. Overwhelmingly, mental health came up, so it was clear this was an important area for us to focus our efforts. By 2024, we are hoping to reach 1.5 million men globally and provide them with access to the mental health resources they need.

Which project to improve men’s mental health are you most proud to have worked on at Harry's?

Harry’s work with some incredible not-for-profit partners and we are really proud of all the work they have done to promote better mental health care for men. There are a number of projects we’re particularly proud to have sustainably supported, creating long-standing partnerships that have evolved over several years. For example, in the US, we are working with A Call To Men - an organisation that promotes healthy, respectful manhood and offers training and educational resources for companies, government agencies, schools and community groups. Through our partnership, all of the training A Call To Men now delivers, be it to an NFL team or middle school students, covers mental health, connects themes of mental health with traditional forms of masculinity and explores how unhealthy those behaviours can be. We’re most proud of being a value-added to our partners and being able to push the space forward.

What advice do you have for organisations wanting to ensure that men can get access to the mental health care they need?

Awareness of men’s mental health has come a long way, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, and it will continue to grow. Awareness can happen from things like TV shows, Instagram accounts and the media. What we’re seeing is the culture finally catching up with breaking down the stigma around mental health, which is a really important step. But this is just one piece of the puzzle.

What we’ve found from our work in this space is that men need to have very real resources. It is frustrating to hear that mental health is an issue and a challenge for everyone but so many people just can’t get the resources that they need and, in particular, the culturally-competent resources that they need. For example, many people struggle to find a therapist who matches an important aspect of their identity, so don’t end up getting help. It’s hard enough to take that first step and reach out for support, especially for men, so we need to think about what we can put in place to make sure their journey towards recovery doesn’t end before it starts.

Organisations need to make sure that there are real resources behind their offering, that men can access immediately and for free. As a brand, we want to make sure that we are putting real money towards a range of meaningful, relevant and culturally-appropriate mental health resources to help people get the support they need, when they need it.

COVID-19 has drastically and disproportionately deepened the UK’s mental health crisis. What action has Harry’s taken to address this?

As we had been focused on men’s mental health long before the pandemic hit, we had found a way of talking about men’s mental health that felt really comfortable with our brand and our customers - truly meeting them where they were at. The pandemic opened everything up and enabled us all to talk much more openly about men’s mental health. We had the baseline of the work done that we could excel from there; we emailed our customers straight away to make sure they had the mental health resources they might need, and we talked to our customers in a way that was empathetic, admitting things weren’t ok right now, which resonated with them and differentiated us from other brands. This approach, and the fact we had so much equity in this space beforehand, proved that we were here to help above all else.

A lot of other events happened during the pandemic where inequalities for Black and brown individuals in particular came to head. Early analysis showed that more Black and brown people were dying from Covid-19 than other populations, so we knew early on that we needed to serve these communities more explicitly. This was compounded by the murder of George Floyd, which heightened awareness of racial injustice further and led to a global movement. These inequalities have always existed in our society and this was a crisis waiting to happen - and we needed to do something about it.

Why have you partnered with Mental Health Innovations on a behaviour change campaign to improve young Black boys’ and men’s access to mental health support via our Shout 85258 text messaging service?

Our work on men’s mental health to date has supported many different communities. But after the murder of George Floyd, we made a global financial commitment of $560,000 to support not-for-profit organisations whose work was focused on improving Black and brown men’s mental health. We wanted to make sure that this money went towards sustainable projects which were predominantly Black-founded or Black-led, and this work will continue to be a priority for us in the future.

If we want to go bigger and better to support the mental health of more Black men, we need to partner with services, such as Shout 85258, which have the reach and technological expertise to be able to get to the men that need help the most. If you look at the UK and the US right now, it is clear that Black people are not getting the support they need. Despite being a community that is affected worse than many by mental ill-health, young Black boys and men face significant barriers to getting the mental health support they need. So we need to think about how we create a system in which they are supported, that is culturally competent, that appeals to them and that is supported within their communities and friendship groups - and then make sure there are real resources at the end of it.

Our Let It Out campaign aims to do just that. We’ve developed it with the very individuals we want to use and benefit from the service, to make sure it speaks to them, uses relevant technology and cuts through the social, familial, educational and economic barriers young Black boys and men usually face when it comes to accessing mental health support.

What impact do you ultimately hope to have on men’s mental health?

We want to reach more men and enable more men to get the mental health support they have never been able to get for a multitude of reasons. We are now in a cultural space where it feels like mental health is being talked about more than ever. We have such an awareness and we therefore have a responsibility to make sure men get the support they need in the very moment they need it. Ultimately, I hope we are in the place where we are opening up a narrative around mental health, particularly for men who usually find it hard to talk about how they are feeling and seek out the support they need.

Shout and Harry’s want men in the UK to know that whatever's going on, letting it out can help. Text ‘MATE’ to 85258 to start a conversation, for free, with a trained volunteer at any time of day or night.

"Thank you for your calmness and understanding. You have given me plenty to work on and think about in order to approach the issues I am facing."

Feedback from male who texted 'MATE' to 85258