Notes on Men’s Mental Health

For the most part I haven’t split the room when talking about mental health because, honestly, I think dividing by gender in any circumstance usually does more harm than good. That being said, I am a man. I do think about mental health in this context, so it would be remiss of me to ignore it completely. So this will be a brief note on men’s mental health, and how it can be more complex than we might realize.

I‘m sure that by now you know that men account for three quarters of all suicides. That’s quite staggering, and this statistic speaks to the problems men face with their mental health. I don’t like to use the term toxic masculinity. I find it to be inaccurate and more divisive than it is helpful. What I will say is that men are brought up to chin up, to be strong, and to generally be stoic. None of these things are bad on their own, but when you are repeatedly told that this is the way you should be then you begin to believe that behaving in any other way is wrong. Like anything else, if you engage in any behaviour excessively, it can become an issue. This is the problem more so than anything – it’s not that men are told they should be strong, it’s that we have come to believe that we cannot be vulnerable. And it is this which affects men’s mental health across the board.

This is not a men’s issue either mind you, it is a societal one. Men don’t grow up in echo chambers and neither do women. So it is all of our responsibilities to address these issues, rather than any one sex alone. We have to give as much attention both women’s and men’s mental health.

Men struggle to open up about their emotions. I know I have in the best. I know that I’ve struggled and kept it to myself because I felt ashamed of myself. I’ve had panic attacks in the safety of my bedroom and never told a soul about them. Men find it difficult to open up. Many feel like they’re supposed to be strong and get over things without ever really addressing them.

It’s understandable, really. If you spend your whole childhood and adolescence being scorned and mocked by your peers for showing any sign of emotion it’s only natural that you’ll do anything you can to learn how to bottle these emotions up. Being bullied for crying or feeling sad, or whatever it may be, was so commonplace growing up. Any lads in my school who more effeminate than other boys were the butt of most jokes. If that is your default, and your norm of existence, I’m sure you would learn to stop sharing how you feel too.

although you are encouraged now more than ever to talk, it simultaneously feels like the world despises men. I’ve often seen men open up about how they’re feeling only to be told that how they are feeling about a situation is wrong. If all feelings are valid, and men should talk about how they feel, how on Earth can they be wrong to feel the way they feel? It sometime seems like people are happy to hear you speak about your emotions, so long as they are convenient ones.

What would you do in a situation where you know you want to talk about how you feel, because you’ve been told it’s okay, but you also fear the backlash for saying how you feel? Would you risk opening up or would you continue to struggle in silence like you always have? Today’s world is more encouraging for men than ever before but there’s still far more men dying by suicide than any other group, and so there has to be something else going on. Perhaps being encouraged isn’t enough. Perhaps being told to be more feminine, and talk about our feelings isn’t the answer. Men and women are different biologically. That’s a fact. And so too are there social, physical, and psychological differences. Our needs are not the same, and so a one-size-fits-all solution for mental health may not be what’s required.

There is still a lot of shame attached to being vulnerable for men. I see this all the time – men who are struggling but feel they cannot open up, or that they are weak for having mental health issues. Not only does it sometimes feel like the world doesn’t appreciate men, but men also carry a lot of resentment towards themselves for struggling with their mental health.

As well as this, in today’s world there seems to be a war on masculinity and I think this wreaks havoc on male mental health. There is nothing inherently bad about masculinity but somehow it feels like there is in today’s era. A great support for men would be for them to know there are people around them who don’t associate masculinity with negative connotations. Masculinity is often, but not always intertwined win a person’s maleness, and so it’s an important part of a person’s identity. We would never imply there is an inherent badness with femininity so we shouldn’t do that for masculinity either.

I’m a man whose previously been caught in the belief that I am not ‘allowed’ to struggle, and that it is un-manly to have emotions. Now I’m still a man, but I no longer believe these things, and I’m better for it.

Across your lifespan you will hear many people say awful things about men who are open and vulnerable and comfortable with their emotions. Unfortunately,it comes with the territory. My advice to you is to not only ignore these voices, but to understand that these sentiments are coming from people who are also struggling and hurting, who have problems of their own which they may not be dealing with. If we can understand that this is what is going on, we can rise above it and move on.

Just because someone says something about you, doesn’t make it true – in fact in most cases it’s the furthest thing from true.

The take home is here is that you are a human being before you are a man, and human beings feel emotions. You are allowed to feel the way you feel, and you are certainly allowed to talk about it too. Men’s mental health needs a lot of attention, and it begins with you.

Generalising any group has never been a good or productive thing to do, so we should not tolerate it being done to any group of people

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