For young men who identify as black and minority ethnic (BME), mental health is not always an easy topic to discuss. Many feel restricted by fear, stigma and barriers inside and outside of the communities they are part of. For some, the available support isn’t appropriate for their needs.
These young people can have different experiences compared to those identifying as white as they are more likely to experience racism, poverty and poorer educational outcomes. This can also prevent them from accessing help. In fact, research by the Education Policy Institute showed that minority ethnic children were less likely than white children to access traditional mental health services.
IGHI has teamed up with The Mind Map and Golden Gloves ABC, a boxing club in Toxteth, Liverpool to form a new project called Fightin’ Thru. Together they hope to use boxing and popular culture to open up the conversation about mental health for young men, particularly those who identify as black and minority ethnic. Through the project, they aim to raise awareness of the appropriate support available.
A group of young boxers from Golden Gloves have been involved from the start to help shape and produce campaigns for the project. We caught up with Mabz, Badra, Jay and Marcel to hear their thoughts on mental health and Fightin’ Thru.
“You have to take care of yourself both physically and mentally”
Mabz, 16, student and boxer at Golden Gloves ABC
“I first learnt about mental health in the earlier years of secondary school through PSHE lessons, although we weren’t really taught a lot.
“Most teenagers aren’t fully equipped with an understanding of mental health and coping methods. Statistics show more male teenagers commit suicide than females. Men don’t traditionally talk about their feelings. They tend to suppress them and go about life.
“I also come from an Asian background, and mental health isn’t spoken about much in my culture. I know others from the same background who can’t really speak to their parents about it.
“Social media is a good place to ensure that people of my age are learning about mental health. The things you see online are not the best though – people arguing in the comments sections or when people look like they’re living perfect lives. If more influencers could talk about the struggles of living life it would be better. One influencer, Joe Weller spoke about his mental health and he’s inspired lots of people.
“We have a Fightin’ Thru event coming up where we’ll be talking to a younger, teenage audience. With a sport like boxing, all you see is competitiveness and aggression. Feelings are suppressed, but boxing is a mental game as well. You have to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.”
“We don’t always feel like we can ask for help”
Badra, 16, student and boxer at Golden Gloves ABC
“I think there’s a stigma around young men’s mental health because of the way society views us. It feels like our issues aren’t a priority. In particular, men from black and ethnic backgrounds are less likely to speak up about mental health because we have to work harder than others in life. We don’t always feel like we can ask for help, so we’d often just try and figure things out ourselves.
“Mental health also isn’t really spoken about among ethnic minorities. I’ve never really heard about people discussing it in my groups. Projects like Fightin’ Thru help break down this stigma because it’s a space where you can talk to others, and where people will listen and give you advice.
“We can help tackle this stigma by spreading awareness. It needs to be discussed more in different areas like schools and other sports.”
“Fightin’ Thru has opened up conversations about mental health within the group”
Jay, 17, student and boxer at Golden Gloves ABC
“As I box with Golden Gloves, I decided Fightin’ Thru would be an interesting project to join to meet some of my boxing idols. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to tell people how boxing helps with mental health, as well as physical health.
“What’s really made me happy about the project is that I’ve got a say in things, like what boxer we’d like to interview and choosing the design of the posters we like.
“Fightin’ Thru has opened up conversations about mental health within the group which might have not happened otherwise. We can actually share what we have been through. If I was suffering with my mental health for example, I could always talk to the team.
“I think being active and making friends is one of the main ways young men can become comfortable in getting support with their mental health. Physical activity, like sport as a hobby does help people a lot. Even if you just go to the local gym, you can make some friends.
“The main thing I’m looking forward to with the project is talking to the boxers out there that I look up to. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to interview them. The person I’d really like to speak to Chris Eubank Jr. It would be a dream for me.”
“Boxing gives me the happy hormones and feel-good factor”
Marcel, 26, professional boxer, English bantamweight champion
“I think men are less likely to seek help when it comes to mental health because of ego. There’s a big stigma with talking about the issues that they face. Media, radio and mainstream platforms do not talk about mental health or hold space for the kind of subjects men are dealing with. That makes people feel isolated as they can’t see people who are going through the same thing and so they feel lonely.
“I do a selection of things to maintain good mental health, including boxing, mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Reiki has also been a big part of my personal journey.
“Creative expression is also a massive thing for me. I’ve not really shown it to people. When I feel like I’ve not been able to get rid of certain pain, I turn to music. Going through a soul-crushing experience that has weighed heavy on my heart, I’ll somehow find a way to put it on a beat and flow.
“My most effective strategy is exercise. Boxing, and especially Golden Gloves has helped me massively, not only with my mental health, but it has helped me turn my life around. When I was younger, I was getting into trouble and it was boxing that got be back on track, teaching me discipline and morals.
“Boxing gives me the happy hormones and feel-good factor on a daily basis. When I’ve felt like I’ve had the world on my shoulders I’ve used that as motivation and have gone to the gym. Once I’ve trained, I’ve literally transformed that negativity into positivity.”