Let's Talk About Men's Mental Health
As we celebrate International Men’s Day today, let’s take a moment to understand how we start to fix the societal failure, a failure on our part to create an atmosphere in which men feel more comfortable seeking help.
I had a bad night.
It’s easy for me to say that - I wear my heart on my sleeve, and my emotions are usually plastered all over my face. There isn’t much I can keep to myself.
So I spoke to my best friend about the bad night. I told him I might need help, might need to speak to a therapist.
He wasn’t impressed.
“Any problems you have are self-inflicted. You can get over it yourself. Find the strength in yourself,” was his curt reply.
I called my other best friend. I told her I might need help, might need to speak to a therapist.
“I’m so glad. It takes so much to reach this point. I’m so proud of you for being so strong,” she gushed.
Why is it so hard for men to talk about mental health? Why is it so hard for men to accept help at all?
Before I get accused of generalisations, let’s recognise that this is a serious global issue.
Did you know, according to the World Health Statistics 2019, global suicide mortality rates were 75% higher in men than in women in 2016? Male suicide rates are more than 3 times higher than rates for females in most high-income countries.
The World Health Organization reports that suicide represents half of all male violent deaths worldwide. Why is this?
To begin with: hello world, meet toxic masculinity - one of the most all pervasive symptoms of patriarchy.
Traditional gender roles that are imposed on men discourage emotional outreach. Men are asked to be tough and strong to prove their manhood. Being in touch with their softer sides is seen as signs of weakness - and so is talking about feelings.
For my male best friend, my admission of a need for help was the greatest failing possible.
But apart from affecting men’s day to day lives, how does this impact them in the longer term? How could this lead to a skewed suicide rate?
Depression is under-diagnosed in men. When men find it so hard to reach out for mental health support, and neglect to mention feelings of depression to doctors.
Men often tend to self-diagnose mental illness - wrongly - as stress, or work problems. Furthermore, men often choose to self-treat themselves - often with alcohol and other substances.
Looking at statistics on depression correlated with gender, the general trend shows that in all countries the median estimate for the prevalence of depression is higher for women than for men.
Statistics on anxiety tell the same story. In all countries women are more likely to experience anxiety disorders than men. Look at the graph below:
Surely this is not a biological difference. This is a societal failure, a failure on our part to create an atmosphere in which men feel more comfortable seeking help.
As we celebrate International Men’s Day today, let’s take a moment to understand how we start to fix this.
First, keep an eye out for signs of the men around you struggling. Reach out, offer help. Don’t ignore or brush off the signs; look for the symptoms; be available to lend support.
And second - let’s refrain from berating men with gendered terms. Let’s raise our sons in a world where they would rather seek help than take their own lives. No more saying, “Boys don’t cry”. No more teasing “Come on, be a man!”
These are just two ways, two out of a million, in which we can make this world a better home for men.
We can do better. We must.
Happy International Men’s Day, everyone. Stay safe.