Men’s Health Week: time to talk


Author, podcaster and holistic health coach Alex Holmes on the tiresome burden of masculinity and the importance of talking about men’s mental health

Images: Andy Commons

To mark Men’s Health Week (15th-21st June), holistic health coach Alex Holmes – a trainee therapist, author and podcaster working with men on their mental and emotional health – discusses why it’s time to talk about mental health. Alex is a welcome addition to the HSMA’s Green Door Clinic team and will be helping to co-facilitate a Wednesday evening men’s support group at the clinic.

The burden of masculinity
The burden of masculinity is tiresome. When men are, if ever, considering what it means to be a man, they come up against numerous barriers. The default man – the archetype to which all men must adhere – is not the man we typically see in the street. The default man is powerful, white, heterosexual, Christian, and asserts his masculinity in ways that people would say are looking for adoration. They are pillars of strength. But this pillar of strength is an illusion.

Back in 2017, on a Sunday in May at around 10am, I had a panic attack. I was two years into working as a newspaper journalist for a busy tabloid and I was consistently on high alert. I was struggling in the paper because I was constantly feeling under pressure and didn’t think I was good enough to be there, didn’t think I could do the job, didn’t think I would succeed... and it all piled on top of me.

Some people ask me how I know it was a panic attack. I tell them this: I don’t know if there are any Harry Potter fans in the room, but the Dementor attack was what this felt like. I felt helpless, and hopeless. I was stuck, scared and felt like I was losing my mind. I lost my breath, I could feel the hairs on my arms prick up. I couldn’t think clearly, I lost my footing, I wasn’t able to know exactly where I was. I was panicking. I froze at my desk. My editor was running around looking for someone to do a story, and it was at that moment the panic set in – the freeze moment.

Alex Holmes

Alex Holmes

Back in reality
My phone alert brought me back. It was my friend messaging me.

He asked how I was doing, and I told him – shallow breath, couldn’t focus – I thought I was having a panic attack. He told me to go somewhere quiet. I managed to slip out of the newsroom, and head to somewhere quiet. He counted me down and helped me regain my breathing. He helped me get grounded and realise where I was. Before I knew it, I recognised I was in the foyer. I was watching people go in and out for their coffee. I was back in reality.

According to, Black men are four times more likely to be arrested under the Mental Health Act, and 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health illness, and while women suffer from mental health issues in greater numbers, when it comes to suicides, men account for 75 per cent of the suicides in the UK. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 45 in the UK and is growing in number among men between 45 and 55. Shockingly, every two hours a man takes his own life. Clearly, there are a number of issues when it comes to talking.

It was here that I felt the buck stopped with us as men. It was here that I realised it was time to talk about these issues now, or face a whole generation of men killing themselves, or being killed by the very system and structures that have been designed to protect us, because we do not talk about the issues that we are facing emotionally. This is why I wrote my book: Time to Talk: How Men Think About Love, Belonging and Connection.

Living with myths
Throughout the book, I unpack six myths about what it means to be a man: that real men don’t doubt themselves; real men are fearless go-getters; real men don’t cry; real men have no worries about their bodies; real men never fail; real men are lone wolves. I explore what it means to live with these myths and how they can cause men to feel alienated, lonely, disconnected. It is a manifesto for men – and women – about courageous conversations with love at its core.

The book explores vulnerability, love, body image, success and self-worth, self-doubt and self-acceptance, but the interesting part about writing it was exploring and debunking the myths that come with being a man.

I had two more panic attacks while working at the paper, and it wasn’t until I left that I realised how much of a traumatic experience it was for me to be there. I entered into therapy, and I learned that I had deep-rooted feelings of not being good enough. I kept telling myself I was never going to succeed. All of these self-limiting beliefs reigned in me until I realised that it really was time to talk about how we are really doing. 

The answer: let’s get serious about male mental health. It really is time to talk.

Alex Holmes hosts a podcast called Time To Talk, in which he hears from experts about how we can recover well, drive towards emotional maturity and expand our lives. He is the author of Time to Talk: How Men Think About Love, Belonging and Connection.