I am a 21-year-old Freemason currently residing in Essex. I have been concerned about the growing numbers of mental health-related issues over recent years due to the attention that has been paid on a national scale in the news, on social media and in political circles.
Although it has been frequently highlighted it has yet to make a memorable impression on everyone that it concerns, and I feel that something needs to be done about this.
Being a Freemason for almost 2 years has shown me the meaning of charity as well as the importance of helping out one another and their families. This has encouraged me to look into the issue of mental health further as well as to where we as a fraternity can begin to approach this subject. I have seen first-hand the impact that mental health issues have on people with close family members and friends suffering from anxiety due to events that have happened in their lives. The MCF do have a project which includes the awareness of mental health but that does not mean we are not able to make a larger impact on a more local scale.
I first began to think about what can be done to help with mental health issues within the walls of Freemasonry and how we can make a progressive course towards the future of Freemasonry when I was talking amongst my fellow brethren about older members of many years no longer attending due to their mental health letting them down. This made me realise that this is something that is rarely mentioned or discussed in a Lodge or Lodges of Instruction where the members feel like they can approach their fellow members and seek sanctuary or help with their issues. Hence, me feeling the need to make a change in Essex and hopefully see it spread throughout Freemasonry that we can be one of the starting blocks for mental health awareness progressing.
What I would like to achieve?
My focus on what I want to achieve from this report and discussing with the Provincial Grand Almoners is to raise awareness of mental health. It’s important that the idea of mental health is seen as an important topic for Freemasons and its contributors to focus on as means for it to be able to be recognised and worked with in order to assist with making a more effective approach. Equally, I would love to achieve with help the removal of the stigma around mental health and the idea that men are not allowed to discuss their feelings out loud and to others.
This is one of the more important issues to consider achieving as we have a substantial number of members who we could work with in order to help those who want to make speaking of emotions a much more normalised and talked about the idea. Mental health issues can come in many forms, each of them just as important – some those may not consider as mental health illnesses are anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
How does Mental Health relate to our members?
Mental health issues affect approximately 1 in 4 people (Mind.org). With 200,000 Freemasons in England (UGLE Website) ranging all ages, shows us that a potential 50,000 members are at risk or currently affected. In the UK there are approximately 6000 suicides annually with 75% of these being male suicides – it is the biggest killer of men up to age 49 (BBC). This statistic is just one of a few which enable us to see the level of necessity that providing support for our members and those in need so that we can assist in the reduction of those numbers by making a difference with our efforts.
Being a majority male based organisation, it is important that we lead the way with mental health awareness and destroy the idea that a man is not supposed to show weakness. This is important as for many years the idea that men should not break down their walls has been normalised. Members should be able to see Freemasonry and the fraternity it includes as a safe place to come and be able to be open with people – examples such as the almoner being available for them to talk to will encourage more and more men to want to talk about their feelings instead of them being kept to themselves to fester and possibly create negative mental health. This is especially important in the current climate of the health service where people may want to express their issues and situations in a less sterile environment which they would otherwise be accustomed too and also due the strain on the health service members may not be able to get the support they need through traditional avenues and will need support from their brethren. In addition to this is important to be also able to support those members who may not themselves be suffering from mental health issues but need to be able to talk their brethren about the strain that may be developing on their mental health due to family members withdrawing from them and becoming distant.
Ways in which we can help –
Use of lodge almoners;
- Lodge almoners are a great asset to a lodge with their long-standing job of caring for members present and past and their families. It is a consideration that as well as all their duties that mental health training would be encouraged to be able to notice issues and help if situations arise. They are important in the structure of any Lodge, so it would be important that they are given the appropriate support they will require in order to help them to fulfil their job requirements if they were to take on the assistance of those with mental health
Recognising possible mental health struggles;
- It is well known that people who are suffering from mental health conditions may appear distant and withdrawn from groups and social gatherings. In this aspect, it is important that with the appropriate training, it is possible for Almoners and other trusted members of the lodge to monitor attendance from members who are usually regular and keen. However, it is also common for those who are considering harming themselves to appear overly positive and level-headed, usually after some time of being withdrawn. Unfortunately, this is not always made obvious by members but it is something that is worth noting that with appropriate education on matters involving mental health it will make it easier to recognise if someone is representing these actions. The following questions may need to be asked if worried about absence and a possible attachment to mental health struggles;
- Is it a long term member that is no longer attending and does not give a valid reason?
- Is a member frequently missing due to illness?
- Are we aware of a traumatic experience in their life?
- Is one of their loved ones going through a hard time?
- Have their circumstances recently changed?
Helping our fellow brethren;
- A few examples of assistance that any member of a lodge can offer according to the Mind charity website which I feel could be transferable would be actions such as providing emotional support, something as little as a general conversation about their daily life can help them open up to an individual about any difficulties they may need some advice or some help with. If something like this experience does occur then it is important for privacy and discretion but it is just as important that any issues that may cause them to be at risk are responded to
Examples of how NHS and private offer help and what we can do for limited expense or for free
- The NHS and private health care in recent years have made measures in order to help people suffering from mental health issues. The arrangements they have made and the methods they use in order to help these people can be at a limited expense or free. Things that we may be able to use or alter for our needs are;
- Despite being one of the more expensive options, private charities, as well as the NHS, do offer counselling services. These would be the more expensive due to the necessary need to hire a specialist who would be able to gather the information considering someone’s mental health issues before working on ways to help them return to normal life. This being one of the more expensive methods it would also be a lot more effective due to the professional level they are subject too. That in mind, this is an example of something which can be considered as a way of allowing brethren or those close to them to seek help by recommendation of counselling services with support.
- Peer support groups, the NHS and Private charities have set up peer support groups throughout the UK where those who are confident enough to attend them can talk about what they are going through with those in a similar situation. This is a good method for those suffering from all types of mental health issues to discuss and hopefully ease their condition and help to reduce their feelings of loneliness. This is a cheap and practical idea because as Freemasons, we have no problems finding venues with plenty of space available.
- Black dog campaign – the removal of the stigma surrounding mental illness, its research and its support. An example of the kind of project that can be run within the organisation. Starting a similar campaign to this but focusing it on all members who are wanting to help or who are suffering with mental health problems could potentially be a worthwhile venture as the large portion of Freemasons in England can take the idea out into the wide world and help to educate those on mental health in their workplaces and other social events where they are able to raise the need to talk about their feelings and emotions instead of keeping it all inside their head which can lead to future implications.
- The Samaritans, a helpdesk/ call centre for those who feel the need to end their life prematurely, supporting fellow charities which fulfil a job like this can be a way for brethren to reach out to those who they do not know if they feel they are uncomfortable talking with friends. This is just one example of how we can help other charities in order to reach the same aim regarding mental health and helping to reduce the effect it can have on people in this modern world.
Mental health awareness is an important topic in this current age and as a whole nation, it is apparent that more and more people are focusing on how they can help those who are suffering from mental health conditions as well as raising awareness of the different illnesses people are affected by.
Mental health is not a new thing it can affect anyone of any age in any circumstances and this is an important area that we need to focus on. As Freemasonry is making an attempt at updating itself with the times and being more open with the general public I feel it is important that as a fraternity of level minded men that we are able to take a step in the right direction to recognise, acknowledge and assist mental health problems and the effects that they have on individuals. In order to approach the current mental health crisis and to attempt to future proof the future of Freemasonry and to help those that need it on a more local scale than what the MCF can offer at this time.
Thank You for Your Time Sincerely & Fraternally, Kind Regards.