Emotional vulnerability should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness, Sachin Tendulkar shared in his open letter marking International Men’s Week. “There’s no shame in showing your tears. So why hide a part of you that actually makes you stronger?” Admitting having initially bought into the misconception, he acknowledged this was wrong and that his pain made him a better man.
Every November the focus shifts to men’s health. Since 2004 ‘Movember’ (‘mo’ for moustache and November) has become an annual event to raise awareness of issues like prostate and testicular cancer as well as depression and suicide. With statistics showing that every minute a man takes his own life, the call to bring male mental struggles out into the open is getting louder.
Although men and women experience similar mental health challenges, perceived standards of masculinity may prevent males from seeking help. For instance, new studies revealed that men can experience post-partum depression too. A marital break-up and underemployment may also impact a man’s well-being. However, the stigma associated with mental health is amplified in regard to men, with society believing that they should be able to control and manage their feelings. The fear of being seen as weak coupled with our reluctance to acknowledge their mental challenges forces them to suffer in silence or ignore it.
Pointed evidence of men’s emotional vulnerability lies in the statistics. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) informs us that four of every five suicides in the country are male. In the UK, men are around three times more likely to kill themselves than women. And in New South Wales, Australia, suicide has become the leading cause of death in males. Even in India the male suicide rate is twice that of females. South of the border, US statistics showed that that up to 6 million American men have depression each year – about half the figure for women. Not talking about this simply masks what is being billed as the silent crisis.
With cricketers’ mental health in the spotlight and several high-profile sportsmen opening up about pressure, it is hoped that men will see these challenges as normal and be more open to talking about it. India captain Virat Kohli admitted that there was a time in his career where he felt it was the end of the world.
The problem is that boys are taught from an early age not to express emotion. While girls may be encouraged to cry it out, boys are told to man up. So naturally they grow up masking their feelings.
Fear of being passed up for a promotion and being laughed at by their colleagues is also likely to prevent them from sharing workplace challenges which typically contribute to high levels of anxiety, stress and depression. This may find expression through violent behaviour, substance abuse, self harm and suicide.
For attitudes and thinking to change society must act collectively by redefining what it is to be a man. Ours sons, brothers, husbands and dads must know that it is okay to feel pain, cry and reach out for help when hurting.
Accessing designated helplines is one way to get assistance while remaining anonymous for those with privacy concerns and fear of being judged.
Raising awareness of male mental health struggles is critical to reducing the stigma and preventing serious consequences. Recognizing symptoms in your loved one can help start an important conversation and bring the problems out into the open.
Health care professionals say that migraines, back pain and irritable bowel syndrome can be rooted in depression as can anger, mood swings and social withdrawal.
It’s time to bust the stigma that discourages men from talking about their mental health and seeking help when problems emerge. And it all begins with teaching little boys that even strong men can cry!