July 23, 2020

While it’s too early to talk in any real depth of our research, some tentative initial findings suggest that in amongst the memes, the footie chat, and the funny news stories, lads today have a real interest in each other’s mental health. That’s something we can see born out offline too, in groups like Luke’s Lads in Batley and The One For The Lads in Grimsby.


That could be due to the time we’re living in now, and how lockdown changed the game. There was a broader sense of people checking in on each other, making sure the people we know are alright than was maybe usual beforehand. According to the ONS, 77.9% of people said in April that they thought people were doing more to help others than before. But other stories might have pushed this to the foreground, and it seems sports stars have been leading the way.


One is that the former footballer Luke Chadwick started talking about his own experiences of mental health issues while playing. For those too young to remember, Chadwick became a bit of a figure of fun – and a walking punchline on the show They Think It’s All Over – for looking like an awkward teenager. Talking about his struggles, as a result, drew apologies from presenter Nick Hancock and Team Captain Gary Lineker. To be fair, Hancock made a decent impression. Contrite, he said he was mortified, and though the team on the show didn’t think about the effect on a teenager’s mental health, that wasn’t much of an excuse because they should have done.


This event, though, isn’t the all-too-familiar story of someone doing something in their younger days for which they later have to apologise. Chadwick himself spoke about how his reaction twenty years ago was to say, ‘pull yourself together’, and said how great it was that awareness around issues of mental health was so much better than in his day. And it appears that is the trend reflected on social media.


Some of this is driven by people in sport or by other celebrities. Former England Cricket Captain Nasser Hussain tweeted about an interview with former teammates Jonathan Trott and Marcus Trescothick for Mental Health Awareness Week. Both players had to walk away from their place with the England test team due to mental health considerations, and cricket is a game which – balancing a team ethic with a huge amount of scrutiny on individual technique and performance – had more than its fair share of issues with mental health. Still more influential was the documentary, Football, Prince William and Mental Health that aired on BBC1. In the aftermath, there is plenty of evidence of young lads taking this as a prompt to check in on each other, or concerns raised about similar issues in other sports. Boxers like Enzo Maccarinelli and Anthony Fowler were spreading press-up challenges throughout social media to raise awareness of the rates of suicide amongst young men.


But predictably, this goes beyond sports stars. There is some evidence of businesses advertising products where some of the proceeds go to mental health charities. But stronger again in this the general sense that this is just something in the air. Over and again, you find evidence of young men tweeting that it’s OK to talk; that it’s OK to have emotions. That it’s not OK to offend someone for talking about their mental health, and that no one should feel like they have to ‘man up’, especially in the current climate. Tweets of this nature repeatedly gained hundreds of likes.


Of course, it’s not all positive. The same search terms throw up results where some lads claim that girls don’t care about men’s mental health. Equally, in some tweets, young women criticise lads for talking a good game on mental health but demonstrating no concern for how their own behaviour affects women. These don’t occur with the kind of frequency of the more positive things we see, but we also shouldn’t pretend the currents aren’t out there.


Nevertheless, one thing is clear from the stories and programmes of the last few months, and the way these issues are discussed on social media, and that is that – as far as mental health is concerned at least – lad culture has come a long way since the 1990s.