Let’s talk about men’s mental healthA patriarchal society that expects men not to exhibit emotions and admit vulnerability is doing more harm than good.
Talking about mental health is often associated with the stigma that surrounds it. It is generally considered a taboo topic, and even with all the growth and development we see in the current era, people generally find it difficult to talk about their mental health.
Challenging the stigma surrounding mental health and dismantling it has been an uphill battle, but if the last few years show anything, we are progressing in the right direction. People are more open to discussing the difficulties they face in their workplace, home or community. And we are stressing the need to talk about mental health in various sectors like our family, community, schools, and government. These are all necessary.
However, we must also realise that though we are making progress, we often miss out on normalising the stigma and stereotypes surrounding men’s mental health.
It doesn’t matter what your age or gender is; everyone is vulnerable to mental health illnesses. But the stigma and discrimination associated with it prevent people from seeking help, and this avoidance of asking for help is often more prevalent in men.
Many men still find it difficult to even use the term “mental health” in relation to how they feel. So while women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness, men are more likely to cause self-harm or injuries. So why do men keep quiet? Why can’t they speak freely about their mental health?
“Be a man”, “Men don’t cry”, “Just get over it”, “Just sleep it off”. These are things we have all heard. Do you believe this is true? Should men not feel emotions? Should they always hide their feelings to appear okay to everyone around them? Our society thinks this is normal. We, as a society, collectively believe that men should be less emotional, and whatever happens in their lives, they must be able to handle it without being affected.
And the result? Boys and men start believing this to be true about themselves. Even when they face a dire crisis, they try not to show their emotions. They try to appear strong and unaffected even when they feel wretched inside. They try not to cry in front of others, even at the cost of being torn apart inside.
These held-back tears and set-aside emotions don’t magically disappear. They stay suppressed for a long time, like a balloon slowly filling up with air. When the emotions can no longer be contained and remain hidden, they burst. Not expressing emotions does not mean they are not there. It does not mean the person is not feeling anything. It just means that they are suffering inside with a smile pasted on their face.
‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’, ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’, ‘I’m too embarrassed’, ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’, ‘I don’t want to admit I need help’, ‘I don’t want to appear weak’, ‘I have no one to talk to’,—these are all the reasons men give to avoid talking about mental health. Even when support is available, men often don’t seek it. The patriarchal society we live in does play a role. Being vulnerable and admitting that you need help is often seen as a sign of weakness. And this thinking and belief have led to perpetuating a vicious cycle that does more harm than good.
We are humans. Emotions need to be expressed and embraced. And simply acknowledging this fact can liberate us and prevent us from bursting out. It will prevent us from suffering in silence while putting on a brave face for the society that denies our emotions.
Appearing to be okay when you are not may have worked in the past, but that is not how we can progress. There comes a time when we have to make a choice, and this moment is that time. Men have the choice to either believe what society tells them and suffer in silence or look outside and seek support when they need it.