‘Man up buddy’, ‘Don’t be a sissy’- ever wondered what your unthoughtful so-called words of encouragement might have triggered in your brother, husband, male friend or any other man? It’s quite boggling to see the hush-shush around the topic of Male Mental Health, where a celebrity speaking up or a certain Male Mental Health Day, (which is on 13 June, by the way) is needed to stir up some serious discussions.
Men have been suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders and many more traumatic mental illnesses since ages; it’s not a newly surfacing problem, we just have failed to notice it. According to a WHO report from 2018, in high income countries, three times as many men as women die by suicide. Mental Health America, a community based organization, reference data suggesting that- more than 6 million men in the US experience symptoms of depression each year and another 3 million battle through the shackles of anxiety. With such staggering statistics, male mental health issues have transformed into a ‘silent epidemic and a sleeper creeper that has crippled the minds of men in millions’.
How often have you seen your father cry or have your grown up brother shared his personal problems with you? My answer would be rarely to never, why? Because no matter how pretentiously progressive we have become, we’re one way or the other still raising our boys to be emotionally dysfunctional men. Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them or by direct parenting to be tough, not to cry, to man up. Many of us have fathers that are emotionally distant, unable to express their needs, fears and grief, which becomes an unconscious template for their sons’ behavior. Imagine being a young boy, crying over a painful injury or an emotional heartbreak that feels like the end of the world, and then being told to “man up”, instead of being gently asked what’s making him cry, how he feels about it and teaching him how he can overcome it. Later on, when that boy grows up to be a man faced with worldly pressures, we would pep him up with the same phrase, thus turning him into a tormented adult.
Society dictates that boys should be raised to believe that confidence, muscular strength, success, composure etc are the core elements of being a man, and anything ‘emotional’ is girly and should therefore be stifled. This notion of masculinity- fearless, resourceful, stoic, mostly in control and usually facing adversity alone, is again reinforced in the stereotype of the popular culture representation of males in movies, series, comics, books and art. Society tells men that it’s simply not acceptable to have too many feelings, ingraining an emotional paralysis into their minds. As a society we expect so much from our men- to be a good son, husband, father, uncle, brother, worker, colleague, lover and much more, always binding them to their traditional gender roles and never allowing them to show distress. We train men like professional warriors and then expect them to be emotionally intelligent, to open up when they need help; worse, we expect them never to need help. When feelings are dismissed and gender-defining thinking is heard repeatedly, a boy learns to bottle up his perfectly valid emotions, turning himself into a ticking time bomb.
In today’s cut-throat world, it is very difficult to admit you’re struggling as a man. Part of it is the macho thing- men tend to see anxiety, depression and mental health problems as weaknesses and secondly it’s the social stigma around mental health issues, especially pronounced around men issues. That’s the thing about toxic masculinity- it’s not just the unconscious belief that enjoying the refined pleasures of the senses makes you less masculine, it’s the belief that vulnerability in any form makes you less masculine, and therefore less of a valuable human being. Men are afraid to seek help in fear of being ridiculed. They tend to think that they can fix this problem quickly and move on to the next, denying that there’s a problem at all- that’s the most disturbing fact of all. Sometimes, men know they need help, but it can be tough to know where to start, majorly not knowing how and who to ask for help.
Prof. Norman Anderson, former CEO of American Psychological Association, notes that American Indian men are the demographic most likely to attempt suicide and that Blackmen are most likely to experience incarceration. Thus, the effect of social disparities on the mental health of people of color and diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is a double whammy.
In a world where science, technology, women, diverse communities are progressing bit by bit every day, how can we push our men into rat-holes of emotional mental trauma? Symptoms of anxiety and depression manifests differently in men than women because centuries old social systems had made them like this. Men are more likely to use external methods to cope with the inward turmoil- often by over-working, substance abuse like alcohol and drug use, anger blocking access to support, bursts of irritation and anger etc. We, as a society, and mostly, as a human being must understand what our fellow beings might be going through at a certain phase. And boys, man up the real way and acknowledge your feelings, identify these sensations- the anger that you might be experiencing as a flush of heat in the face, the sadness that you feel as a tightening on the throat, the anxiety that plays a knot in the stomach.
So people, “Mard ko bhi Dard Hota Hai” (Men also feel pain) and boys, “Tujhe bhi Dard Hota Hai, Tujhe Pata Nahi, Par Tujhe Hota Hai” (You also feel pain, you don’t know it, but you do feel pain) – remember this before schooling yourself and other boys on dismissing your emotions.
Syeda Peenaz Seerat is a student pursuing English Literature at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Iqbal
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.