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Guys, Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Deconstructing the stigma surrounding masculinity and mental health

Originally published to Mind Cafe

Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50. Allow that to sink in for a moment: above war, disease and accidental death, more men choose to end their own lives than those that die unwillingly.

Make no mistake, mental illness is nothing short of a global epidemic. It is well and truly wreaking havoc on the human race, with suicide rates and diagnoses of psychological disorders breaking new records every decade.

Whilst women are more likely to receive a clinical diagnosis of a mental disorder, the chances of men committing suicide due to illness are three times higher; male suicides outnumber female suicides 4:1.

But why on earth do these stark differences occur? What is it about males that puts them at such a greater risk of suicide than females?

An Age-Old Stigma

Many point to the stigma that men are the biggest victims of mental illness purely because they believe that admitting to suffering indicates failure or weakness.

The expectations placed upon men to be self-assured, confident and dominant at all times render them feeling incompetent in the face of poor psychological health. Men that lack confidence feel unmanly, men with depression wonder why they can’t just ‘suck it up’, and male sufferers of anxiety feel weak and fragile compared to their macho stereotypes.

Men feel emasculated in the face of poor mental health, and so they struggle alone, never admitting that they need help. Furthermore, to make things worse, emotional discussion has for many years been seen as ‘girl talk’.

Stereotypically, women engage regularly in conversation about their emotions; when a female encounters a personal issue, she will generally feel comfortable enough to confide in her friends about her emotions. Women feel happier seeking advice from others, taking little shame in admitting to struggling.

In an attempt to avoid being seen as weak and to preserve masculinity, males often refrain from discussing their emotions and decide to internalize them, fighting the battle alone. Therein lies the problem.

A Problem Shared…

When faced with a personal issue of any kind, our natural response is to talk to others. We’re filled with an urge to share and confide in those we love. In entrusting our friends or family, we can begin to chip away at a problem, viewing it from the perspective of other people and whittling it down into manageable chunks.

The issue we’re dealing with starts to wane in intensity and becomes easier to deal with when we talk to others about it. As the saying goes, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. We can begin to see the essence of our problems from another person’s perspective, putting things out in the open instead of losing ourselves in thought.

When males feel that they can’ttalk to other people without being judged, rejected or deemed a failure, they choose not to. That fundamental emotional outlet is cut off, and suddenly they’re left to battle their demons alone.

Indeed, both men and women struggle with mental illness. Depression, anxiety and their formidable friends affect us all — but only one half of the population actually seems to feel comfortable seeking help. For the other half, us men, it’s the opposite.

Mental illness damages the well-being of males significantly more, simply because men feel pressured to fight their battles alone. Subsequently, they are hit much harder.

This is largely why suicide rates are so much higher in males. Not only are men suffering in the first place, but they also then isolate themselves rather than seeking help.

There Is No Shame in Seeking Help

While I’ve never been diagnosed with mental illness, I’ve certainly had my fair share of negative emotions to deal with. My fiancé was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the beginning of last year. When you’re living as a male caregiver, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay strong and supportive.

It’s also very difficult to talk about how you feel when it seems that everybody around you has it much harder. How can I complain when she’s having to put up with all of those awful symptoms and treatments on a daily basis?

Alas, the beginning of this tumultuous and unexpected journey was incredibly difficult and isolating. The moment I started opening up to my friends and family about how I felt, however, everything changed.

Sure, it’s still an incredibly difficult situation to deal with, but speaking with others smooths out the bumps a little. It provides us with mental clarity and preserves our sanity in the face of hysteria.

Mental illness is something that is likely to affect us all at some point during our lives. Whether small bouts of depression, patches of anxiety or a fully diagnosed condition, there is no shame in seeking support. Ever.

If confiding in friends or family isn’t an option for you, there’s therapy, charities and countless free advice services online.

Below is a list of chronological steps I’d advise anybody in need of support to take. If one step isn’t feasible or workable for you, move onto the next.

  • Speak to a trusted friend or family member about your feelings.
  • See your GP; they’ll spend time giving you advice and may refer you to therapy.
  • Call one of the many helplines listed on this website, created by leading mental health charity ‘Mind’.
  • Visit an online chatroom, such as Kooth, and seek online support.

There is no shame to be had in seeking help, and doing so does not mean that you aren’t strong. In the words of Les Brown,

‘Ask for help. Not because you are weak, but because you want to remain strong.’

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