“What whiskey will not cure there’s no cure for”, said Ashok as he swirled his drink, the ice clinking against the glass. Rohan nods in agreement and the two men swallow their woes, with the cruel burn running down their throat.
Seems familiar? It is to most of the world too!
Men around the globe are assumed to be the strong, dominating, prowess of power. Dating back to the ages of the hunter-gatherers, men are believed to display their bravo and be the heroes while bottling up their emotions and hiding their weakness from the world.
Ever wondered how mental illness looks like?
A fake smile, an extra drink, the snappy comment and the unexpected aggression. Road rage, a broken remote, a skipped meal or a missed game…things that we see so usually around us but never notice as a sign of mental illness. Camouflaged as a change due to stress, often we forget to notice that men too have emotions and as their way of expressing are clearly different from that of women- Behaviours in men that could be signs of depression — but not recognized as such — include:
- Escapist behaviour, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems and pain
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Controlling, violent or abusive behaviour
- Irritability or inappropriate anger
- Risky behaviour, such as reckless driving
As unfortunate as it is, suppressing your real thoughts and feeling just multiply the problem to the point of devastation, a lot worse than you hoped it would be; Bringing us to the question are we really being brave or just ignorant?
The influence of media and the constructs of society have driven men to further this idea for generations, thus discarding the possibility of mental illness ever happening to them. After all, do macho men ever feel hurt?
The answer is obvious, that quite often we chose to ignore….YES, they do!
Mental illnesses affect both men and women equally, however men are just a lot less likelier to admit and talk about it. Researches over decades show that one out of eight men will suffer from depression and five out of ten would experience anxiety, contributing to about 75% of suicide rates in men. With such largely devastating number, we wonder why men don’t speak up. What is it that stops them?
Social constructs, the need to conform to the norms of masculinity and the standards and expectation put on men by society fail to judge the consequent impact on men and their mental health. The degree of conformity experienced by men and the pressures to live up to the demands of society have slowly dwindled the importance given to men and their mental health. Physical health on the other hand would be acknowledged as they need continued sustenance in finding the ability to provide for their family-both financially and emotionally but a lack of concern toward their own upkeep is appalling.
You couldn’t be more wrong! If you are to believe reports from the National Institute of Mental Health, men are not just socialised to be stronger than women but share the same genetic disposition to mental illnesses as women.
Mental illness is nothing more than a weakness
The stigma around mental health in itself is plenty, it just doubles up three-fold when it comes in relation to men. It has been emphasized over decades only to find a small sense of acknowledgment in today’s day and age that depression is not the equivalent of weakness. It is as real as any visible physical illness and can happen to anyone. Mental illness’ can be experienced just the same as one would diabetes or high blood pressure, with no exceptions for men or women. Men are assumed to be able to control their feelings, deal with their emotions and simply get over it… and they have! For years men have gone by getting over their feeling, sidelining their disturbances and brushing away its consequences, putting up an acceptable face to the world but what we fail to realize is that not everything that we hope to control can be controlled and not everything that we push away won’t have its consequences.
Talking doesn’t help
Talk about sports, news and politics… debate over global issues and the consequences of the hypothetical world, but talking about emotions.. no man is a sissy enough to be doing that! One of the biggest myths that men live by. Men across the globe have been conditioned to believe that talking about your feelings is something saved for the womenfolk and not meant for men. Self-reliance is believed to be one of their biggest strengths, getting by their lives doing everything on their own.
A quick drink is all we need
But is it really?
Substance abuse is one of the most predominantly noted problems in men with a 3:1 ratio in comparison to women. What starts out as one quick drink to wash away your woes, soon turns into what is popularly known as “suicide in slow motion”.
Men reach out to substance at early ages as a recreational measure, soon turning into their source of support through every major transitional phase of their lives. What starts as a complement to the celebration, soon turns into the friend that understands you without words in a crisis.
Dependence on substances such as alcohol, cannabis or synthesized drugs have significantly increased over time with the increase in accessibility and the pressure of society growing by the day. What may be misconstrued as anger and aggression could be often a result of their underlying stress, depress and anxiety, cumulatively leading to an increased dependence on substances that are easily available instead of reaching out to doctors or loved ones.
“Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished”
John Gray probably was the first to notice and popularize that men and women are different, so are their needs. Working with mental health for men is essential and distinctly different for women. What remains common is that, when sleep isn’t sleep anymore but an escape, it is time to get help!
But how do we do that…. In a few simple steps we say,
- Goals. Set realistic goals and prioritize tasks.
- Support. Seek out emotional support from a partner or family or friends. Learn strategies for making social connections so that you can get involved in social activities.
- Coping. Learn ways to manage stress, such as meditation and mindfulness, and develop problem-solving skills.
- Decisions. Delay making important decisions, such as changing jobs, until your depression symptoms improve.
- Activities. Engage in activities you typically enjoy, such as ball games, fishing or a hobby.
- Health. Try to stick to a regular schedule and make healthy lifestyle choices, including healthy eating and regular physical activity, to help promote better mental health.
All words and no actions are no good
Awareness and understanding is great but empathy and acknowledgement can be even better. In a world where men are expected to fulfil roles and reach out and be there for their partners, the same expectations should be continued when roles are reversed. A little help, a gentle question and an extended arm of support sometimes could be everything a man needs to find solace in a confidante. “Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak. But if you can’t be vulnerable, then you can’t truly grow and be your best self. Women can either embrace and help men walk across the tightrope, or we can be the ones who push them off.” Says Dr. Brene Brown in her book Understanding Male Vulnerability.
Brushing away your emotions only lead to suppressing them, to have bigger consequences than you anticipate. What we need to realise that mental health for men is not an option but a necessary way of life. Asking your partner or friend how they feel especially when you know that they are going through a difficult phase can go a long way even without you realizing. Sometimes all the support a man needs is the moral support n knowing that someone is there for them. Encouraging the men in your life to seek help, reach out and speak about their feelings instead of suppressing them could help them avoid a situation much averse than anticipated.
Save a man’s life by educating and encouraging them while letting them know that it is OKAY to be sad, hurt and lost and that there is always someone out there willing to listen!