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The men in mental health: “We don’t like to show vulnerability, so we hide it”

In a new series marking Men’s Mental Health Month, we speak to men about cannabis, caring and what needs to change.



THC: A male cartoon sitting on the floor thinking
Men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women

For men’s mental health awareness month, Cannabis Health speaks to fathers, patients and carers about their experiences, with a focus on what needs to change.

In the first of our series, we meet parent and cannabis-activist, Matt Hughes whose son, Charlie is a medical cannabis patient. In 2020, Matt co-founded MedCan Support with Hannah Deacon, a platform to offer better information for parents, following his own experience.

Mental health is never an easy topic for anyone to discuss. There is still a lot of stigma, which can make it difficult for people to talk about it openly. This is despite the increasingly high number of people diagnosed with conditions such as anxiety or depression. When it comes to accessing services, therapies or help, certain groups are less likely to reach out for help. This includes the LGBT+ community, carers and men.

Men: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinics

The Mental Health Foundation estimated that in England, around one in eight men has a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It also reported that only 36 per cent of NHS talking therapy referrals were from men.

The difficulties faced by men in discussing mental health struggles can be made worse by societal pressures around gender roles and expectations. Men are traditionally seen as the breadwinners and the family support although this is changing. As a result, many men choose to stay silent when it comes to reaching out for help. This silence can have serious consequences, with research showing that men may have higher rates of alcohol dependency and are three times as likely to die by suicide in comparison to women.

Men, caring and cannabis

Caring for a family member with a severe illness can also have a significant impact on a carer’s own mental health. When it comes to medical cannabis, this comes with its own unique set of problems in that access is not always easy and the lack of NHS prescriptions leaves parents forced to find huge sums of money for their child’s medication.

It also places parents in the stressful position of having to potentially step into a new role as cannabis activists. Countless hours can be spent protesting, fundraising and advocating, alongside the already stressful meetings with healthcare professionals. When it comes to gender representation, mothers are often featured more than their male partners. Yet there are a number of fathers who are actively involved in campaigning.

Men and mental health: Matt Hughes, Alison Hughes and their son Charlie

The men in mental health

Matt Hughes’ son Charlie was just 10 weeks old when he started to show signs of epilepsy. He was later diagnosed with West syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy which can be resistant to most treatment and can cause multiple seizures per day.

Matt said: “Charlie was 10 weeks old when he started having what we thought was indigestion and colic. He started bending over and it was always around food or bedtimes. The doctors dismissed it as severe colic but he was getting upset and was bent over in two. He was really tense and looked like he was in pain.

“We were in the children’s assessment unit at the hospital when Charlie went into status, which is constant epileptic activity. He started to have clusters of seizures non-stop and was diagnosed with epilepsy at this point.”

Matt highlighted the effect that the diagnosis had on himself and his wife, Alison.

“We just went into shock. You don’t know what to do because you are not designed to deal with it,” he said.

“When we were initially told it was epilepsy, before we understood the severity of it, we thought it would be [a case of] tablets or medication. It was only when we were given more information, that we realised how devastating this was going to be for him, for us and for his future.”

He added: “We had an expectation of being normal parents, we expected that Charlie would go to school, develop and do completely normal things. I couldn’t wait until he was able to ride a bike, or when he is 18, so we can go down the pub together. All of these things that we are not going get to do as parents.”

For post-diagnosis patients, there follows a period of grief where they begin to contemplate life with a complex illness or serious condition. There may be sadness about not being diagnosed early enough or being diagnosed later in life. This may also extend to family members while they begin to understand a new condition and what limitations it may bring. It can mean huge adjustments to lifestyle, living conditions and daily routines.

“I find it really hard because Charlie is non-verbal so he babbles and makes noises. He does say mum but he doesn’t say, dad,” said Matt.

“We are never going to hear him say, ‘I love you’ or anything like that. This is something a lot of people take for granted.”

Adjusting to a new role as a carer can be tough on relationships where there is a lot of pressure and added stress. With the lack of access and funding issues of cannabis-based medicines, there can be even more emotional strain. Matt found one of the only ways to cope with the changes was to keep going.

“I haven’t really accepted it, I don’t know if I ever will but you have to get on with it,” he said.

“There is a lot of shock and anxiety, along with fear for the future. There are so many unknowns and then we have the fight for cannabis on top of that.”

He continued: “It’s been hard on our relationship, as you have to work at it and don’t have a lot of time as we are looking after a severely disabled child. We don’t get a lot of time to be husband and wife doing the normal things. It’s a real struggle and there is a lot of trauma. I don’t know how you deal with that.”

When interviewing parents of children suffering from conditions such as epilepsy, the issue of mental health conditions that arise from their experiences is raised often.

Parents often speak of depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD, generalised anxiety disorder and the trauma they have encountered. The Mental Health Foundation estimated that 71 per cent of carers have poor physical or mental health. It can be difficult to take time out to take care of yourself when you are looking after a severely disabled person.

Men: A black and white photo of Matt Hughes.

Support for male health

Matt stressed that men don’t usually discuss the difficulties surrounding the emotional side of caring for their disabled children, although it can sometimes provide a welcome break on occasion, as anyone in a carers role knows only too well.

The conversations about care, medications and responsibility can be overwhelming at times and distraction or escape can be not only necessary, but life-saving too.

“I’ve had this conversation with the mums, but the dads don’t talk about it,” said Matt.

“When I’m with the lads, we don’t talk about Charlie. They will ask if he is okay and I will always answer, ‘yeah, fine’ even if he has had a really terrible week.”

He explained: “We just don’t talk about mental health. There is an expectation that we are meant to be the strong ones who support the family, that mum and children rely on, to be not just the breadwinner but the main support too.

“As men, we don’t like to show that vulnerability or anxiety, so we hide it. When I’m with the lads, we don’t talk about it which, to a degree, is also a release, because then I can have a break away from everything.”

But what about community among cannabis dads?

“I’ve never spoken to another dad about their child, it’s always been the mums,” said Matt.

“I think this is how the men deal with it. We just don’t talk about these things, we step away from it. There have been times where I have really struggled with everything but I won’t show that in front of Ali. I will wait until I’m driving to work then just burst out in tears.”

Another way Matt takes a break is through exercise and fitness. He was heavily into CrossFit before Charlie was born and is aiming to get back into that.

“It’s really good for your mental and physical health,” he said.

“I try to get out on my bike and go for a bit of me-time where I can forget about the stresses of medical cannabis, work, family and all the rest of it. I can zone out. Exercise really helps me to do that, as it’s just a moment to yourself.”

What needs to change for men?

When it comes to men’s mental health, it’s clear there needs to be more support and encouragement when it comes to speaking out. And Matt believes that people need to remember that there are men involved in fighting for access to medical cannabis, too.

“Generally, when we are talking about mental health, especially in the cannabis sector, there is a huge focus on the mum, there is no talk about the fathers,” he added.

“It would be good to remember that there is sometimes a dad out there or someone else who is involved in the family and dealing with exactly what the mums are going through as well.”


Cannabis Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. All content on this site is intended for educational purposes, please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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