Freddie Flintoff’s brave and informative documentary
Written by Laura Stewart
Men’s Health Issues in 2021
International Men’s Health Week, which falls on June 14-20, 2021, calls for affirmative action to initiate positive change in the lives of men around the world (Men’s Health Week, 2021). The need to focus on mental health, particularly given the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic has become a common goal of organisations in the lead up to this year’s Men’s Health Week. Men are significantly more susceptible to developing an eating disorder than is commonly recognised in society (Levine, 2019). According to the National Eating Disorders Association (2021), 25% of individuals experiencing an eating disorder are male.
Freddie Flintoff Documentary
Former England Cricket Captain and TV host Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff’s powerful BBC One 2020 documentary encapsulates the sentiment of Men’s Health Week. Living with Bulimia, released 28 September 2020, has been widely praised by mental health professionals as an honest, courageous and highly informative look at Flintoff’s 20-year struggle with bulimia nervosa (McLennan, 2020).
On camera, Flintoff meets with professionals and others experiencing the same condition to discuss a range of issues and a path to change. There is a key focus on the need to address the stereotypes surrounding men and mental illness, drawing attention to the notion of eating disorders being traditionally viewed as a “girls’ issue” and therefore greatly misunderstood (BBC One, 2020). Flintoff reveals that “as a 6ft 4 bloke from Preston” he believed that he “shouldn’t suffer from bulimia”, posing a major mental barrier to seeking treatment (Greep, 2020). Another misconception discussed is the classification of “bulimia nervosa”, to include less frequent symptoms such as laxative abuse and excessive exercise after eating, in addition to the most widely understood symptom of purging food (BBC One, 2020) The documentary also considers the impact on family and friends, which can sometimes be overlooked (BBC One, 2020).
Flintoff credits the support of fellow suffers for his decision to seek professional help, emphasising the importance of support groups. Fortunately, in Australia, there has been a significant increase in support groups for men in in the past 10 years. The West Australian (2021) estimates 300 community support groups across the country exist today, as opposed to just 10 in 2010. One long-term bulimia sufferer James Downes told the BBC News that Flintoff’s documentary had given him “a sense of relief” and made him feel less isolated (Pandey & Roper, 2020). Downes also noted that he had not come across many with a similar experience, suggesting many men are suffering in silence, a view that is consistent with the academic literature (Pandey & Roper, 2020; Levine, 2019).
Living with Bulimia has been hailed as “one of the most important documentaries of 2020” (Pearce, 2020). If you know someone who may benefit from this production, further information can be found on BBC Iplayer.to consider its contents and suitability (BBC, 2021).