- 16 Oct 21
Irish musicians have come out in force to support the upcoming Movember campaign, with the likes of DJ Arveene, Micheál Quinn (drummer for Dermot Kennedy), Rob de Boer and producer Zenna all putting their weight behind the initiative. Here, Josh Gray shares his own mental health journey.
Movember’s mission is to create a world where men live happier, healthier, longer lives. This year, Hot Press are asking musicians in particular to share their experiences of mental health, and Josh Gray has valiantly joined the crew.
You might remember the Wicklow native from his days in Louis Walsh-curated boyband HomeTown. Having joined at just 16 years of age, Gray experienced the intense highs and crushing lows of the pop world. The band later dissolved, and the singer-songwriter was left questioning his next move as a solo act.
Speaking to him over the phone about his involvement in Movember 2021, the Irish campaign's new Mo Bro deeply resonates with the NGO's bid to help men express their emotions. Having bottled up his inner thoughts in the past, Josh was forced to completely reevaluate his entire mindset after going solo.
“I would have gone through a good bit myself, considering my age. The big thing for me was imposter syndrome," the 'Too Comfortable' singer concedes. "It’s only in the last year that I found myself really content with who I am. I was always the type of person who held back and never said anything about what I was feeling because I’d be afraid of hurting other people. Ultimately, that makes it so much worse for you."
"I’d also be a huge people pleaser myself too. I got to a boiling point at one stage and it just all came out," Gray admits, candidly. "With the pandemic, my coping mechanism was burying myself into my work. That became unhealthy, I was just constantly thinking about music and overworking myself. You just feel like pure shit then and don’t want to touch a guitar. Being able to express yourself is key. Even being able to pick up the phone and talk to a friend is critical. You start to feel like you’re going crazy, but everyone is going through something. That's why I'm delighted to be working with Movember this year."
The artist, who is currently in the process of relocating to London, has personal links with the problems tackled by Movember.
"I've lost an uncle to suicide and my family have gone through a lot of traumas and illnesses. They’ve been very vocal about it, which is part of the reason why I’m so in favour of speaking out.”
While we’ve achieved a lot and are certainly going in the right direction, there’s still plenty to be done. Across the world, we still lose a man to suicide every single minute of every day. That’s over 500,000 men every year. Movember’s mental health strategy takes an upstream approach, aiming to reduce the number of men who need to avail of the existing crisis support services.
This is largely based on prevention and early intervention, by opening up the conversation around men’s mental health, giving guys the tools to effectively support their friends who are going through a tough time and by addressing some of the key risk factors for men’s mental health.
“I think male mental health is going to come full circle, even more so now," Josh emphasises. "Myself and my mates would be quite vocal with each other in terms of how we’re feeling. At the same time, it really depends on where you grew up and the people you surround yourself with. We had this mentality of ‘You’re grand, sure what have you got to be depressed about?’ in the past, but mental health doesn't discriminate. No one's upbringing or experiences are the same.
"For me, it's important to tell someone when I'm overthinking. I had to learn how to be open and honest with the people around me - there’s no point in hiding it because it only makes it worse for you. It grows legs. A problem shared is a problem halved. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.”
One of the primary aims of Movember is to urge boys and men to seek help when dramatic life changes occur, which Josh is all too familiar with.
“When I was 16, I was thrown into a boyband with Louis Walsh involved. HomeTown were quickly judged as wannabe pop stars. I’m the last thing from that, but I found that very hard," he responds. "At 16, someone who’s a powerful social figure like Louis can make you feel like you’ll have the sun and the stars. You get big ideas. We’ve done incredible things but that’s from the outside looking in. You see things from the other side later on. We played the 3Arena and experienced all of those crazy gigs and trips, but come November of that same year I was working in River Island with 100 quid in my pocket."
"I had no school accreditations and was at a total crossroads. All my friends were going to college and I didn’t have any prospects. I had wild life experiences which made me who I am today but I was basically a has-been at 19 years of age," Gray sighs. Having built himself back up from the ground, Josh has since supported Olly Murs and McFly in front of thousands of people. A 2022 support tour is also in the works for another, unconfirmed artist. It's looking positive, but it wasn't an easy journey.
"It was honestly a horrible time, I felt so low and had terrible self-confidence after HomeTown disbanded. I didn’t want to get out of bed," he confesses, pausing to think. "I went from an all time high to an all time low and had to build myself up. Music was my thing, so I had to break through on my own then and find a new identity. At the same time, I was trying to figure out who I was after living in such an artificial pop universe. It’s emotionally draining."
"The biggest hangover was the worry that people weren’t taking me seriously. There was a preconceived perception of me, but that pushed me to work harder. It can make or break you. I’m very open and transparent with everyone around me now, which helps, but you need the right people around you."
“Another thing I would try to do is to avoid social media when necessary. Unfortunately, it’s part and parcel of what I do for a living," Josh notes. "I’d be the type of guy to not have it at all, if I had a choice. It’s not good for my mental health. With the day and age that we’re in, we’re too quick to look over our shoulders and compare our lives with other people. You say to yourself, ‘I’m working my ass off but I don’t have that nice thing that this person has’. That’s an unhealthy mindset.”
Having shaken off the constraints of worrying about other people's perception of him, Gray is feeling more at ease with himself than ever. Campaigns from Movember are hoping to help other men achieve that same boost in self-worth.
“I think Movember is amazing for getting men to question our learned behaviour. This idea that real men don’t cry or talk about our feelings is completely archaic," Gray posits. "I think our older relatives and men from different times went through unspeakable traumas that they were told they had to completely bottle up. It’s great that we’re coming to a point where expressing ourselves is more normalised, but we’re not at the right stage yet. Movember can spur people on, though. Irish men can be very negative without our outlook, that classic idea of ‘Only women talk about their feelings’. That’s just so wrong to me.
"It’s alright if you feel terrible when you wake up today. Be vocal, be honest. It can only get better from there.”
Right now, Josh's focus is on driving support for the upcoming Movember campaign. The original Movember idea is that you grow a 'tache – and raise funds for Movember by getting family, friends and anyone else you can reach out to, to sponsor that noble endeavour. Needless to say, the more dramatic or impressive the moustache the better. What began as a bit of fun (and an opportunity to have a few beers) has grown into a worldwide mission to offer happier, healthier and longer lives to men.
Through funding from Movember, breakthrough projects have broken new ground in the science world. Campaigns led by the NGO encouraging the early detection of prostate and testicular cancer have also saved countless lives, as well as their suicide awareness initiatives.
There are many different ways you can join in the moustachioed fun, under the headings Grow A Mo (your face will raise funds and awareness for men's mental health), Move for Movember, Host A Mo-ment and Mo Your Own Way among them. The Irish campaign officially launches on October 29th in Pygmalion.
To join Movember Ireland's campaign, visit ie.movember.com/.
Read Movember Ireland Country Manager Jack O'Connor's interview with Hot Press here.
Photo by: @niamhdolphin