November is here and we are excited to be bringing you an insight into what goes on in a man’s head! For many years, everyone assumed that ‘Movember’ was just a month to grow a moustache or a beard, but it is so much more. In the last 15 years, we have seen an incredible rise in men’s mental and physical health awareness, and we couldn’t be happier. With the Movember movement first starting in Australia, it is now globally recognised with over 5 million people creating an amazing community to support our fathers, partners, brothers and friends who are faced with health problems that are rarely spoken about.
As another national lockdown reaches the UK and many other countries across the globe, it feels right to shine some light on men’s mental health, so we have moved mountains to bring you an exclusive Q&A with the captain of the Leeds Rhinos team and brand owner Stevie Ward. As a dedicated sportsman, he is highly praised by rugby lovers everywhere, but we often don’t get to see what struggles men like Stevie have been through and face in their daily life.
What does Mental Health mean to you?
To me, mental health is the basis of every interaction in life and just like physical health, we need to be aware of it and take care of it. Men talking about mental health still seems to be a taboo but over the last couple of years I have let go of the stigma that comes with talking about it; it’s time to face the reality that we all go through stuff. We need to be conscious that mental health isn’t a “one size fits all”, everyone is different so we need to tailor the way we approach every conversation.
The global pandemic has very clearly impacted everyone’s mental health, so could you tell me about any times over the past few months where you feel like your mental health hasn’t been at 100%? How did you overcome the obstacle of not being in control of the surrounding situations and do you have any tips and tricks?
Through my career in rugby, I have suffered many injuries but at the beginning of 2020, I suffered one of the most complex injuries that I have ever had and it caused me to take some time out to recover; little did we know that we would be going into a lockdown. Unfortunately, because of the complexity of my concussion, I have had a long road to recovery with side effects and physical symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, sensitivity, emotional mood swings and confusion. It’s been a stressful time and when you go through something like this it really shakes your identity.
Luckily, with the work that I’ve been doing I feel like I have had the tools to cope and I truly believe that both men and women need to know their purpose or have some sort of association with a drive (something that motivates you) and if you don’t have that, there is bound to be a struggle, whether that’s your mental health or an underlying sense of dissatisfaction. A recommendation for men that are going through a turbulent time, take into consideration your actions and behaviours and ensure that they are in alignment with your life and with who YOU want to become. I would highly recommend reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” – it really helped me get through tough times and find a meaning to all the craziness that has happened this year.
How has your concussion affected the way you see your career progressing (whether it’s in rugby or not)? What advice would you give a fellow man when they find themselves faced by uncertainty in their career or life.
I have little time left as a rugby player and I haven’t fully decided yet what I will be doing, however, I know that my brand (Mantality) is progressing and there’s so much I can do with it as a platform. The uncertainty of my concussion has caused me to have a rough time and it has affected me in different ways, but my advice is to men is to hold on and stick to it; everyone is going in different directions and there isn’t just one solution to every problem we face, we need to remember to steer our values towards the correct baseline – know what works for you, know what makes you feel great and stick to it. It’s all about balance, ensuring the way you approach your life is always in a more positive and constructive way.
How do you feel your brand has helped in terms of raising awareness for men’s mental health, what new projects do you have in place for the future? What feelings have you had recently about working towards those goals?
Mantality is developing all the time and we aim to go beyond the stigma, but what we are most proud of is that we make mental health tools accessible and engaging for men. What I’m looking at doing is working with different companies, colleges, universities and groups of men that are interested/ready for an exploration of what may work for them and what a better life could be with support through different and tailored sessions. It is exciting to see this develop so rapidly, especially through my portal where people can already get involved and become part of an accountability group to live more fulfilled and successful lives.
Could you describe to me how ‘supported’ you feel by others around you – your friends, family, partner? What would you recommend for a man who is going through a tough time?
I am so lucky to have an incredible support network. I have a partner who’s incredibly supportive and has stood by me after such a rocky year in terms of my health. I am so grateful for her. I also have my twin sister with me, she’s a doctor! I also have a network of male friends that I have open conversations with about mental health, some of my friends have completely different ups and downs in terms of their mental and physical health and we talk about it unashamedly. The nature of what I do does contribute to this and I believe that finding that brotherhood, where you can have similar conversations and listen to each other, is necessary and it’s something that has been neglected to a certain extent over the past couple of centuries. Bringing that back and openly discussing our feeling and issues really does help. We have done a retreat in the past and it’s been one of the most powerful things that I have ever been involved with, allowing yourself to drop that barrier and have an open conversation is so important. Being able to be you, fully you is really powerful.
Do you have a self-care routine that you follow, any products, a certain type of scenery or activities that you feel are your go-to when you’re not feeling your best?
Meditation is my go-to on a daily basis and I try to do at least 45 minutes, whether that’s 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, but it helps me get centred. I also do two practices of gratitude, make sure to exercise or keep active every day and I even take cold showers! These are the things that work for me and I believe they provide me with a springboard of better coping mechanisms to improve my chances of dealing with anything in life that gets thrown at me. I am a big advocate of stepping outside of your comfort zone, feeling every emotion and finding what works best for you.
I’m all over lemon & ginger tea and night time tea, you can’t beat a good cuppa! I also drink a mushroom and lions mane coffee by Four Sigmatic, which really helps my body feel awake and ready for the day. As a recommendation, I would personally encourage every man to take their supplements, Magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Vitamin K, etc. I take all of these to give my brain and my body a better and healthier chance of recovery. In terms of my skin, I use natural products and I’ve gotten into CBD oils which are known to ease symptoms of many common health issues, including anxiety, depression, acne and heart disease.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self?
Even though I’ve had a lot of trauma and so many things have happened recently, I think they’ve all shaped me to become the man I am today. I guess what I would say is – know what’s good for you, know what’s right for you and just explore it. Look after your body and find the right balance in life. I remember a period in my life where I was very erratic and I was going through very severe depression, I remember reading an article where it said: “happiness is right under your nose”. I realised that I was letting my life slip through my fingers and had to do something to get myself together and start enjoying my days. It’s a lot of time on this earth and we just need to start enjoying the moment!
Mental health is something that we all have to deal with and you are not alone. However, men have struggled with this issue for a very long time and with the tough times that we are all facing with during this pandemic, it is imperative that we all keep an eye out on each other, talk more, express our feelings and show gratitude towards the things we are able to achieve.