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Tough Enough to Care: Inspiring authenticity in men’s mental health



In conversation by Marco Ricci

Tough Enough to Care (TETC) is a charity that not only believes in the need for honesty in providing mental health support, but places it firmly at the heart of everything it does. Marco Ricci speaks to the founder of TETC, Stuart Bratt, on the origins of the charity and what it hopes to accomplish.


Within the space of four days, Stuart lost two of his friends to suicide. As is human nature, Stuart sought patterns or relationships that could possibly explain the trauma he had experienced.


Neither friend was known to one another so, on the surface, there wasn’t anything immediately obvious linking the two deaths. But looking more closely at their lifestyle revealed the male-dominated environments in which both lived.


“They were both serving in the military,” explains Stuart, “so it would likely have felt close to impossible for either of them to reach out and ask for help. They probably felt afraid to talk about their mental health for fear of being seen as ‘weak’, opening themselves up to ridicule.”


Stuart’s reasoning reflects what is generally understood about male-dominated environments, and the relationship between men and mental health: that, among other potential drivers, the ‘boys don’t cry’ stereotype continues to prevent men from talking about their emotions. It’s a theory that is supported by recent data which shows that only 36% of NHS talking therapy referrals are for men.


Turning trauma into cause


Tapping into the trauma he’s experienced, Stuart Bratt is now determined to make a difference in men’s mental health. The mantra of his charity, Tough Enough to Care (TETC), of ‘supporting people, NOT labels’ reflects the organisation’s denouncing of old-fashioned stereotypes to focus on the individuals burdened with them. It does so by offering safe, non-judgemental environments in the form of support groups, online messaging services, one-to-one counselling, and community drop-in sessions.


“Everyone is given their own time to talk,” explains Stuart, “and treated with the same level of empathy and respect, regardless of their education, experiences, or background, eliminating any form of favouritism toward different issues.


“There is never any pressure. Those who join are surrounded by like-minded individuals with masses of lived experience to help one another.”


The tone of TETC’s sessions challenges stereotypes too, exchanging the idea that opening up is easy for an honest and straight-to-the-point approach that helps people feel heard and respected: “We cut through the bullshit. Too many people try different ways to dress up tough conversations, but we champion them. We normalise and promote conversation about mental health, without promising it to be all sunshine and rainbows. After all, mental health recovery is a journey, not a destination, and the journey won’t always be forward facing and pretty.”





A chance meeting


It was in 2021 that Stuart came across a video series about the Dodger 7s rugby team. Across a series of six videos, members of the team speak candidly about their experiences with mental health issues, covering topics such as depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal ideation.


“Rugby is a huge part of my life, so I immediately felt a connection with the pressures these young lads were talking about,” says Stuart. “But it was the honest approach of the Blindside series that really hit home for me.


“These young men had been through really tough times. The kind of times people often try to hide away in a closet rather than share with anyone else. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they opened up and spoke honestly about the harsh reality of the road to recovery. It was refreshing to see and instantly relatable.”


Inspired by what he had seen, Stuart reached out to the director of the Blindside series, Alex Bowdery, about the possibility of partnering up to try and create something that would challenge people’s perceptions of men’s mental health.


“He told me all about his charity and what he was trying to do in the future regarding men's mental health and we landed on the idea of creating a film together,” says Alex.


It was a film that took a while to make, with its final release coming the week before Christmas 2022. But for Alex, the lengthy planning and filming time was exactly what was needed to ensure the film was as authentic as possible.


“We met up and spoke frequently about it, with Stu acting as the compass throughout,” says Alex. “We’d chat through ideas of how we could possibly make the film as realistic and relatable as possible.”


Creating a sense of authenticity


This period of contemplation resulted in a complete stripping back of their original concept for the video, choosing to focus in on the individual and their experience of the world as they struggle to manage their emotions.


“We felt that isolating the audience in a bubble with this character would ultimately offer a glimpse into what it feels like to suffer from mental health issues.”


With such a strong focus on the protagonist as they venture through everyday scenarios, the impact of any visual or audio effects becomes more prominent and meaningful. And in the case of the TETC campaign, the impact is particularly striking, perhaps contributed to most strongly by the protagonist’s notable lack of talking throughout.


Image of man walking down the street with a blurred background, indicating that his issues have begun to affect his everyday life
The video makes use of visual effects to imply a sense of the protagonist's issues encroaching on his everyday life

“Our thought process was that the silence would be uncomfortable for the viewer, which in turn would instil in them the same sense of frustration and distress that the protagonist is experiencing,” says Alex. “It was our way of trying to put the viewer in the shoes of a man who just doesn’t know how to open up.”


The video follows the protagonist through everyday scenarios until, eventually, his issues take hold. In a scene where he is walking along a pavement, the background begins to blur, and the reality of the scene begins to warp. He has reached breaking point.


“From a videographic point of view, it was another attempt to get into the mind of the character,” explains Alex. “We’re trying to show the chaos that is being exacerbated by his lack of communication about the way he is feeling. It’s a very strong effect which almost envelopes the audience with a feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness.”


What feels like some respite from this frustration comes right at the end of the film as the protagonist, seated among others in a group talking session, goes to speak… but then chooses not to. This is, as Alex echoes Stuart, to create a sense of authenticity:


“By the end of the film, the character is nearly ready to speak up and talk about his issues. This decision was important to us because we didn’t want to provide a sugar-coated ending where the protagonist lives happily ever after. Instead, we wanted to show that he is coming to grips with the journey at hand – that with the support of others, he is getting closer to taking his first step to recovery.”




Standing shoulder-to-shoulder


It is this relentless pursuit of authenticity that acts both as the underlying message of the TETC campaign, and the spine of the organisation itself.


“It was important for us to create something that was as honest as possible,” says Stu. “Not just because we wanted it to be faithful to what men actually experience, but also so that it stayed true to who we are as a charity.”


It is also an attribute TETC want to see reflected in society. The organisation’s aim is to make mental health a normal conversation in everyday life; one that inspires people to feel comfortable enough to reach out for support when they are struggling. And TETC will be there for anyone that does.


“We hope that, after watching this video, men and women will feel inspired to help themselves or others,” says Stu. “We know it’s a tough watch, but it ends in a hopeful way. We want people to make the character in the film part of their own make up. To find the strength to reach out for help.


“We might all be in different boats, in different storms, but the support is available for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are. Very much like the military and on a rugby field, we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with every person who needs help.”



 

Visit the Tough Enough to Care website here.


Tough Enough to Care has recently partnered with SHOUT to provide a free 24/7 text support service across the UK to ensure there is always someone there to talk to. To access the services, text 'TOUGH' to 85258.

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