‘There’s an issue with toxic male masculinity’: Joshua Patterson on men’s mental health 


Vitality Magazine talks to endurance runner Joshua Patterson, who's on a mission to erase the stigma that mental illness is a weakness


Reality TV star-turned endurance runner, Joshua Patterson, is on a mission to redefine the way men live with mental illness and how they are perceived in society.  

Having made a name for himself on the hit Channel 4 TV show Made in Chelsea, which he joined in 2015 as the show’s resident sport fanatic; Patterson, now 33, has been busy accomplishing world-firsts on the running circuit, in a bid to shine a spotlight on causes close to his heart and raise awareness for men who are struggling with their mental wellbeing – something he knows all too well.  

The father of one revealed in 2015 he had struggled with his mental health for most of his life.

“It’s something that is happening today and will happen tomorrow,” JP, as he’s candidly known, tells Vitality Magazine. “I think that’s the hardest thing to accept .

“It’s hard work understanding your mental wellbeing and trying to make the right decisions to prevent yourself from making mistakes.” 

And Patterson is not alone in his struggles. Today, suicide is the biggest cause of death in UK men under the age of 50. 4,129 men committed suicide in England and Wales last year, along with 1,454 women.

The highest rates of suicide among men were those from mixed and white ethnic groups.  

'Toxic male masculinity' 

To take control of his mental illness and erase the stigma that mental health issues are a weakness, Patterson has undertaken a number of physical challenges. Arguably his most high profile was ‘Run 4 Nation’, which he undertook in July 2021.

For this, Patterson would have to run four marathons in all four UK countries, in a tight deadline of a mere 24 hours. Spoiler alert – he did it, with just under 15 minutes to spare; becoming the world’s first person to do so.  

Prior to his four marathons in 24 hours, in 2019 he completed a 950 mile in a wheelchair from John O’Groats in Scotland to Lands’ End in England. 

And during lockdown, when most of us were told to stay at home, having made a name for himself a high-performance athlete, he set himself two challenges to run around his 14 ft patio; one being to run for 24 hours without stopping and the other to complete 5 marathons in 5 days, for which we raised more than £24,000.  

“What people probably wouldn’t know, is that going into all three of these challenges [around his patio and the Run 4 Nation], I was at my lowest. I was literally on my knees,” he reflects.  

The charity Patterson had been doing this challenge for, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), however, had been dealing with a 38% increase in phone calls to its hotline since the Covid-19 lockdown began.  This only spurred him on to complete the challenge he’d set himself, which he did.  

“For men there’s such an issue with toxic male masculinity and what the perception of alpha-male actually is,” adds Patterson. 

“I’m an emotional guy, I’ve shown my vulnerability and yet I’ve put myself through really physical challenges. 

“I hope that by doing these I can connect with those individuals that are struggling to open up about their mental wellbeing.” 

Why you don't have to 'man up' 

In recent years, the term ‘man up’ is taking on a whole new meaning. What was once seen as a phrase to encourage men to hide their feelings and not complain has been turned on its head.  

Now the name of a charity that advocates for men to reach out if they need help or to talk about their feelings, it shows that society is changing.  

But it’s not always been that way. So, why have men struggled for decades to tap into their emotional side?  

The Mental Health Organisaton explains that “society’s expectations and traditional gender roles play a part in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems.” 

Meanwhile, one study found a lack of social support for men correlated with increased restriction of emotions, and has been associated with more men experiencing “psychological distress.”

Another study reported that a high proportion of men in western societies are less equipped to cope with challenges life can throw at them, due to the fact that men are not as able to adapt to new ways of managing challenges.  

This then means they are more likely reach “crisis point” and as a result their mental health suffers. Staggeringly though, 40% of UK men said that it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm for them to reach out for help.  

Today, there are around one in eight men in England who have mental health issues but are struggling to address it, which, according to the Mental Health Organisation, is extremely damaging. 

Get the right mental health support for you

Talking Therapies is available for Vitality Health members that are going through a rough time, or simply want to talk to someone about their mental wellbeing.  

As a Vitality member you can get access to eight online of in-person session per plan year, which varies from counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

If you’re already a Vitality member, log into Member Zone to visit our health hub, or visit vitality.co.uk to find out how Vitality health insurance can help you.   

It states that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems and less likely to seek support.  

Meanwhile, Vitality research found that the number of men seeking support through our Talking Therapies service has spiked in recent years, with a 41% increase from 2019 to 2021.  

As encouraging as it is that more men feel they can reach out to talk about how their feelings, more needs to be done to raise awareness and support these conversations. 

A nurturing environment

As well as setting himself challenges not achieved by any other person, Patterson has also benefited from having a nurturing environment around him.

“It took me a number of years, a lot of friendships and a lot of conversations,” he says. 

“Having the right individuals around you is infectious. The way they perceive you, communicate to you, acknowledge you, reward and empower you. It’s amazing.” 

He also acknowledges that patience is important. “You’re not going to fix your mental health today, you might not fix it tomorrow, you may never fix it. But I think having patience with the process and acceptance too, makes it that little bit easier to live with.” 

 If you’re a Vitality member and struggling with your mental health and you have a qualifying health insurance plan, you can log into Member Zone to speak to a Vitality GP. 

However, if you’re not insured with Vitality, please contact your GP, or visit the Samaritans website to support those in need and break the silence.

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