We've never been able to consume as much content and information as we can today. The tiny devices in our back pocket (although let's be real, most of the time they're in our hands) mean a world of news, dating apps and online shopping is just a few seconds away - but we humans are not evolved to handle this kind of consumption and we're still in the process of figuring out what exactly it does to us.

This year's Men's Mental Health Week is focusing on the internet and its impact on male* mental health - what is this dopamine-delivery device doing to our brains? And how can we harness it for good?

We spoke to Alastair, a Registered Dietician, self-professed cancer warrior and member of the Trekstock Community to ask this and more. Alastair was diagnosed in 2019 with stage 4 germ cell testicular cancer and uses social media and Trekstock's online community to connect with others experiencing cancer too.

First, Alastair, why do you see Men's Health Week as being important to discuss?

Well, quite simply, men’s health is a bit underrepresented. But why is this? We have all heard of or even participated in, Movember, which has been around since the early 00s. Although personally, I feel it hasn’t been recognised much until more recent decades with better charity and media/social media coverage. Or maybe that’s because I gained the ability to grow a beard!?  

Men are ‘stereotypically’ meant to present a strong exterior. It's a well-known fact that presenting injury and health issues is delayed in men - putting off or even denying it with an ‘it will be fine’ attitude. Whereas health is often socially constructed as a feminine concern and women appear to make visits to a GP or pharmacy more regularly.

It's nobody's fault, but there is scope for change in the present day. Men’s Health Week is a fantastic opportunity for discussions about this to happen, including improving awareness around men’s health issues and highlighting the support available for them to access.  

This year's campaign centres around the internet and its implications for men's mental health - what would you say those implications are?

Well, immediately I go to the impact that social media has on mental health. In previous years and different generations, the internet played a leading role in establishing itself as a source of all the information and ‘influence’ you will ever need.  

Then social media came in and there was a new player on the field, and it’s had a significant impact on mental health. Social media increases the reach of the good and the bad. Individuals are comparing themselves and their lives to those around them and the rest of the world, but there likely isn’t a huge amount of data on how this is changing our behaviour yet... 

Do you notice any changes in how you feel after a period of scrolling through your phone?

Immediately what springs to mind is ‘scrolling guilt’. It happens too often: I have a viable reason to open my phone - such as check the weather, messages or something that. Then 10 minutes later, I’m still liking and sending links to others of dog and cat videos. Not only have I lost that time to essentially nothing, but I’ve also potentially impacted the productivity of my friends and family too.

You could say it spreads like a virus! It doesn’t make me feel good at all; I feel guilty and like I should be better – but should I? That’s stigma and that brings that shame feeling I don’t want or need. There are ‘do not disturb’ modes that I really should take advantage of. 

Do you think men find it more difficult to seek out emotional support around their cancer diagnoses?

It feels like women have a different introduction to health, and possibly mental health, because they feel more able to have open and honest conversations, first and foremost, with their friends and family.  

Whereas with men, there is a bit of a stereotype to not bother, present a tough exterior and only speak up when an issue has got to a serious stage. Like they’re doing the right thing and being the hero. 

The internet can also be a force for good - do you find any benefits in using the internet in relation to your experience of cancer?

Laughter, entrainment and networking! I have met some absolute gems through social media. Individuals and charities I never would have come across. This includes Trekstock! It’s allowing me to flourish as a cancer warrior with the full intention to be an inspirational survivor of my disease; sharing, caring and raising awareness.   

How do you think Trekstock's online community platform on Circle could benefit the men in our community?

Well, it's important to say they already are! With meetups, webinars, resources (food and cancer booklet), events (exercise, style nights), workshops, and fundraising opportunities bringing us all out of the woodwork. The key word here is it provides a ‘community’. A safe place to share and network. The introduction of the Circle platform is only going to bring more opportunities for men. I mean I’m game guys and girls! Food involvement is always going to be my preference... 

Lastly, what advice do you have for our male community members who find themselves struggling mentally and emotionally with their cancer diagnosis?

I want to admit from the start, I had, and have, a very alternative attitude to my cancer diagnosis compared to most. My job was, and is, treating advanced cancer and other healthcare conditions. I was diagnosed with a huge amount of insight into the area and saw it from a different angle.  

I was, and am, young and healthy - I would say I was ‘in my prime’ when I got diagnosed. I decided to see it as a challenge rather than a chronic disease associated with death and negativity. If there was anyone that could beat it, it was me with my background, and I was going to do everything in my power even though it was stage 4 and had metastasised to my liver, both lungs and my brain.  

The brain is a fascinating thing, and I truly believe that I would not have gotten to where I am today without my positive and forward-thinking attitude to my disease and life in general. I understand this is not possible for everyone for many reasons... but let’s start chatting to each other. It can be scary and difficult to even start the conversation about concerns about your health and shying away from starting those conversations can seem easier, but if you don’t try, you won't know. Just know that there is a whole community ready to start that conversation. At your pace.

If you're not already a member of the Trekstock Community, then sign up here to access our online platform Circle! And remember to keep an eye out on our 'What's On' page for our next Online Coaching Programme for Men.

To access support and resources around Men's Health Week 2023, head to the Men's Health ForumIf you find that you're struggling with your own mental health, please make an appointment with your GP or visit the Mind website for more information about the different types of support available to you. If you find you're in need of help immediately, please go to your nearest A&E or dial 999.

*PSA: When we say male, men or men's, we mean to be inclusive of anyone who identifies as a man.