Men’s Health tackles the male mental health crisis with its latest cover

The mag has swapped its usual focus on smouldering celebs and bulging biceps for four school-aged cover stars who have all faced mental health struggles. We speak to photographer Chris Floyd about creating the covers

Mental health is one of the biggest problems facing young men today. In the UK alone, for instance, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

There’s been a spate of recent campaigns that have looked to address the issue, including Project 84 by CALM, which saw the charity create 84 sculptures to represent the one man in Britain who takes his life every week, and Samaritans’ poster-led campaign to get more men to seek help, which shared the stories of real-life men who have been through dark times themselves.

A less well documented aspect of the male mental health debate is the fact that these problems are beginning to show up at an increasingly young age. The latest research indicates that one in eight children now has a diagnosable mental health disorder in the UK, up from one in 10 in 2004.

The team at fitness and lifestyle mag Men’s Health has spent the last few months investigating the subject at Oasis Academy South Bank in South London, speaking to teachers, counsellors, clinicians, commissioners, legislators and, of course, the students themselves about what more can be done.

The magazine’s new issue sees the launch of its #GiveThemAHeadStart campaign based on its time at the school, and is accompanied by photographer Chris Floyd’s powerful portraits of four Year 11 students – Hasan, Ibrahim, Elohim and Andrew – which will appear on newstands across London.

Drawing inspiration from a recent New York Magazine cover story where Michael Avedon travelled the US taking photos of school-shooting victims from the last half a century, Floyd shot the boys against a grey Colorama backdrop, while their classrooms subtly peeked out from behind.

While Floyd’s original plan was to use more lighting during the shoot, a serendipitous moment when none of the flashes worked resulted in a very different set of images. “I looked at the picture, which was basically just using the daylight that was coming in through the windows, and there was something about it that looked much more real, punchy, and had a kind of dirtiness to it,” he says.

The cover images in particular offer refreshingly honest portraits of your average 16 year-old boy, a feat which Floyd puts down the openness of the four young cover stars. “The thing about teenagers is that they’re so camera aware. They had a kind of amazing confidence in front of the camera, and it wasn’t a braggy, posey confidence, it was just a quiet, almost stoic confidence. They seemed to know how to hold themselves in a way that was self-confident, but without tipping into posturing,” he says.

It’s certainly a brave approach for a mainstream publication which we’re more used to putting topless celebs with shredded abs on its covers, and an important reminder that men’s health and mental health should be viewed in the same way.

The June issue on Men’s Health is on sale now. Find out more about the magazine’s #GiveThemAHeadStart campaign here