Hélène Selam Kleih wants to change the way we think about male mental health

Hélène Selam Kleih is a 24-year writer, activist and model from South London. She has put together a book called Him + His exploring male mental health.

The anthology was inspired by Kleih’s personal experience with male mental health. Her twin brother was diagnosed with psychosis in 2014 and has been in psychiatric ward for young adults since January 2017. The conversation around male anxiety and depression has started but prejudices around masculinity and emotional stoicism still prevail, as we have seen this week with the death of Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis.

Him + His confronts the problematic discourse around male mental health, exploring why fragility is still seen as a weakness and the toxic language that encourages men to suppress their emotions. Kleih has gathered contributions from doctors and psychiatrists, male friends, men she met through her brother’s treatment and strangers who have reached out to her wanting to share their story. 

She has written the piece below on why it’s time to stop writing effusive Instagram captions and make real life changes. 

Hélène Selam Kleih with Him + His (Romany Francesca)

Is all this airtime on mental health really that productive?

February is a painful month. After January’s saintly tendencies, we’ve all clocked that our resolutions are not so enduring, quite exhausting, and instead search out new destructive habits to counteract the sheer boredom that comes with being healthy.

For me February is another year older, and another year of my twin brother still very much stuck in an institution. 799 days and still stuck in a cycle, that while at points, it seems like he’ll manage to slip out of, is an endless Mobius strip. His psychosis, is limitless and has no boundaries. It’s a continuous seesaw and we don’t call it mental health.

You see, in my family, mental health really isn’t in our language – health denotes vitality, prosperity. Mental illness doesn’t have a place in our vocabulary. Illness fights the thread of hope we all cling to.

But if you glimpse at any of the screens we use every day, mental health is no longer a dirty word.  Mental health is ‘in’ now – sharing is caring.

Milo Max for Him + His (Milo Max)

Yet, as we scroll through our Instagram heroes and see them ‘coming out’ about their mental health issues, are we registering the statistics, the suicide rate that’s pulling at our chests – 84 men a week kill themselves. Five men that I know have died in the past two weeks. Is all this airtime on mental health really that productive?

We are coerced by brands and advertising to believe that we are enacting real self-care, we are finally listening to our bodies and minds, men are finally crying, and we’re all fuelling ourselves with the right vitamins and booster classes. Health is wealth after all, and someone’s profiting from our desperation.

Athena Pagington for Him + His (Photography Piczo @We Folk)

Mental health is glamorised by the media, and by ourselves – every day that we engage in conversation with our friends, our family, our co-workers, we adhere to society’s standards of what it means to take care of ourselves, and we continue to partake in performative action – pat each other on the back and post a longwinded Instagram caption. We have actively commodified our wellbeing.

Because addressing the root cause is hard – unearthing our mental health issues is a burden to our brains, to our souls and to the souls of others, it’s easier not to speak. 

But right now mental ill-health is costing the UK about £94bn every year, and each suicide costs about £1.7 million. When we look at the cash loss, it seems quite obvious that we need to treat the root before the rot. Why must we wait to act, only after the crisis? Real self-care is having agency over our minds and our mental states, and for that, expression, in whatever way possible, is essential.

I wonder how many people remember the real reason behind my book? How many people are posting HIM + HIS on their Instagram stories before reaching for it for help? Each contribution came from a place of darkness and a place of hope – a hope that whilst things may not get better, they are manageable and don’t have to be tackled alone.

Christopher Newell ‘To awaken from dream-like slumber’ for Him + His (Christopher Newell)

As one contributor highlighted, community is crucial: “My most recent relapse has made me realise just how important a project like yours is. I find that writing about my experience is really therapeutic. Fortunately for me I now have an amazing support structure in place. But so many people are suffering in silence and on their own for no good reason.’  Him + His is more than paper, it is expression, it is a network of people showing that there is no absolute solution, yet creating and creation can be a prevention.  

My brother’s situation, like so many others, isn’t sad, and is nothing to be sorry for. It’s real life and so shouldn’t be removed from Instagram. Mental health shouldn’t be a loaded term, and how we practice self-care shouldn’t be limited to a time or a space or social media. Self-care, for me, is about being content – comfortable with whatever we are going through because we have a community around us.

Get a copy of Him + His here.


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