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This hashtag is prompting men to get real about mental health and suicide

Listen up, men. It's time to push that toxic masculinity aside. We need to chat about mental health and suicide. 

If you're apprehensive about speaking up, don't worry. There's a hashtag for that.

Throughout the month of August, you may have seen men from around the globe posting selfies on social media making an "OK" symbol with their hands. But this signal is more than a simple selfie pose. It's part of a global campaign meant to let men know it's OK to talk about mental health — and especially suicide. 

Appropriately, the photos have been shared across Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #ItsOkayToTalk.

The need for a campaign addressing men's mental health is undeniably dire. According to the World Health Organization, over 800,000 people die by suicide every year. Death by suicide accounts for an estimated 1.4 percent of all deaths globally, making it the 15th leading cause of death as of 2012. 

In the U.S., where 42,000 people die by suicide each year, the suicide rate for men is 3.5 times higher than that of women. In the UK, there were an estimated 6,122 deaths by suicide in 2014, with the suicide rate for men more than three times higher than the rate for women. In Australia, where 2,000 people are estimated to die by suicide each year, men account for around 76 percent of all deaths by suicide.

And the trend of male suicide rates drastically outnumbering those of women is seen in the majority of countries around the globe — and it has been that way for years.

To help tackle the problem, Irish rugby player Luke Ambler started the #ItsOkayToTalk hashtag campaign. But the inspiration wasn't only driven by statistics. For Ambler, it's personal.

Tragically, Ambler's brother-in-law, Andy, died by suicide in April. Andy's family and friends were left devastated by his death, and Ambler decided something needed to be done. After Andy's death, Ambler created a Facebook group called Andy’s Man Club, a place he hopes men can feel safe and supported talking about mental health. Soon after the Facebook group launched, Ambler posted an image of himself making an "OK" symbol with his hands on Twitter, asking other men to do the same.

Within a week of posting the photo with the hashtag #ItsOkayToTalk, the tag was trending in the UK and Australia, which Ambler credits to rugby fans latching on to the campaign. The hashtag has since gone global, finding footing with social media users in the U.S. and beyond. Several celebrities have also participated in the campaign.

But it's not only men participating in the trend. Women from around the globe have also started showing solidarity, participating in the hashtag as well.

And the feedback, Ambler says, has been heartening. The rugby player says he has heard from men from all over the world, saying the tag has prompted men to reflect on their own mental health — and encourage the other men in their lives to do the same.

"There’s been so much positive feedback," Ambler told The Independent. "The one that really touched me was this man who messaged me on Facebook with the words, 'You saved me.'”

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.

Tags: Instagram

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