Mental Health//

Why We Need to Talk About Mental Health and Masculinity

“The sooner we evolve on our perceptions of masculinity, the more pressure will be placed on decision-makers to change theirs.”

Chinnapong / Shutterstock
Chinnapong / Shutterstock

Welcome to Thriving Mind, a resource to help you understand your individual signs of stress, take small steps to recharge, and unlock better mental health.

Our definition of what it means to be a woman in our culture is constantly evolving, but have you ever noticed that what it means to be a man has curiously been expected to remain the same? 

That’s what I found when I traveled the world and interviewed men of all ages, identity groups, and walks of life for my book, For The Love of Men: A Vision for Mindful Masculinity. Most of the men I spoke to felt lost. They wanted to talk about masculinity, but more often than not, those conversations were framed around what men couldn’t do, not what men could do. So I decided to put my own spin on the masculinity conversation, where instead of being the problem, men could be the solution. It’s high time that we start viewing gender as something that we all have, not just something that half of us have. This conversation around masculinity needs a makeover. Unless we alter the way we talk about men, we will never begin to solve the most challenging issues facing us. 

Through my research, I’ve found that a productive conversation around masculinity is most urgent when we look at men’s mental health. While women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are far more likely to die from it in almost every single country around the world. In the United States, we’ve seen such high rates of suicide that men’s life expectancy has begun to decline, something that rarely happens in an industrialized country except in times of severe epidemic or famine, neither of which is currently the case. We are in the midst of what I would call a man crisis, and when you look at the data out there, you see that it explains everything. 

You start wondering why this man crisis is not on the front page of every newspaper. We see it in suicide rates, but also loneliness rates. Men have fewer friends, less in-depth friendships, and spend less time with their close or extended family. They’re also far less likely to seek out counseling or go to the doctor. Given that almost two thirds of rural counties don’t have a single psychiatrist, for many men in America, it’s easier to get a gun than a therapist. In other words, men are alone, but they’re dying together. They’re dying at far greater rates of preventable mental health problems they don’t even know they have. 

Men will become even more vulnerable as we approach what many analysts have warned could be a recession, since masculinity is still almost exclusively tied to work. For many men, who are increasingly at risk of losing their job, their entire life’s purpose goes out the window when they face unemployment. The absence of a thoughtful conversation around masculinity and the unresolved mental health issues it causes is leading to vulnerable men joining the ranks of radical hate groups like the alt-right or the Proud Boys. These organizations are filling the vacuum of this absence of a conversation around what it means to be a man. 

It’s time to act

To reverse this man crisis, we need a greater array of male role models for men on screen (Brad Pitt is apparently on it), but we must also press our elected officials and policy-makers to act. As election season approaches, we will hear men talking about the radicalization of men in the Middle East, but we must press them to talk about the radicalization of young men in America. As we hear them discuss their solutions to America’s unique problem with horrifying gun violence, we can’t accept their talking points. We must ask them how they will protect boys and men whose deaths by suicide make up the vast majority of gun deaths in America. If they want to curb gun deaths, they need a plan to address suicide, especially in marginalized communities like those who are indigenous or part of the LGBTQ community. We need to press them on women’s safety, an issue that warrants so much of our attention, but we must also press them on men’s. Politicians spend a lot of time talking about “protecting” and even “cherishing” women and girls, but why are only half of us worthy of their protection? 

This change will not happen overnight, but the sooner we evolve on our perceptions of masculinity, the more pressure will be placed on decision-makers to change theirs. When I see younger generations question gender altogether, my heart is filled with hope. We can question the lies we tell about men, and tell the truth, which is that all of us are worthy of care, affection, and love, regardless of our gender. 

This content is informational and educational, and it does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a health professional. We encourage you to speak with your health-care provider about your individual needs, or visit NAMI for more information.

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