TW: Mentions of suicide November is men’s health awareness month. Many difficulties that the male community face are discussed with more emphasis each November, including the detriments of tobacco usage, prostate cancer, etc. Men’s mental health is one such region that gets overlooked often. We, at Hibiscus Foundation for Social Welfare, believe that the access […]
November is men’s health awareness month. Many difficulties that the male community face are discussed with more emphasis each November, including the detriments of tobacco usage, prostate cancer, etc. Men’s mental health is one such region that gets overlooked often. We, at Hibiscus Foundation for Social Welfare, believe that the access and availability of mental health welfare resources must not be barriered by gender. But why is men’s mental health rarely discussed? What challenges do they face? What are the possible interventions we can take?
The social construct of masculinity is a double-edged sword that allows little space for discussions on men’s mental health. Men are expected to be in full control of their mental and emotional conditions always. Being expressive is not an option extended to them. Moreover, toughness and strength are associated with being stoic. A 2018 study found that this condition men to often downplay symptoms or worse, not reach out to medical professionals at all. The suppressed emotional state unfortunately has contributed to the 35% hike in the likelihood of suicides in men than in women, as discovered by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in February 2022.
“Men will be men” is not a patriarchal construct that only affects other genders; it also deeply impacts the lives of men. Men are expected to accept pressures and take lead in decisions surrounding life-changing responsibilities (such as earning a living, marriage, having children). The looming pressure of these expectations create performance anxiety, overthinking and a constant doubt of one’s own self-worth. Their sheer existence becomes devalued in the light of what they are expected to achieve.
Men are often expected to be the breadwinners of their families.
Any case of financial backseat that occurs also becomes their responsibility to bear. Also, mental health worsens with poverty. As men’s identities are closely tied by social constructs to earning, they tend to prioritise livelihood than seek mental health support.
The most common and crucial reason is the downplaying and stereotyping of men’s emotions. From young, men are conditioned to “tough it up” and hold a stiff upper lip in all situations. Display of emotions, especially those associated with stereotypically feminine qualities such expressing sadness and empathy, are deemed unsuitable for men. This dysregulates their emotional stability, causing mental health issues.
Men are expected to be problem-solvers and self-sufficient. Society builds this through demanding men to be very responsible. A 2018 study on men’s social connectedness found that this, in turn, creates a hyper independent self who is uninterested and unsure to ask for help, even when they direly need it. Many times, therapists report men downplaying symptoms because they do not know how to ask for help without feeling like they are being weak or dependent.
Unsurprisingly, body image issues contribute to men’s mental health issues as much as it does for other genders. Statistically, men are expected to be taller and physically more stronger than their significant others. Other common myths include developing muscular heft and growing facial hair. These are not in any way symbolic of one’s masculinity. However, repeated social reminders on their body image could cause severe mental stress to the hearers.
Firstly, a de-stigmatization of men’s mental health is an inevitable action to be immediately taken. The provision for men to express emotions and vulnerabilities without socially conditioned norms barricading them should be accommodated through safe spaces in families, friends circles, et al. Moreover, explicit awareness on the need for accessible men’s mental health care needs to be done. The dilution of social conditioning and provisions to seek help will help alter the scope of men’s mental health care significantly.
We, at Hibiscus Foundation for Social Welfare, wish all men a happy Men’s month and wish well for your mental health. We provide counselling services at minimal cost and accept donations towards mental healthcare as well (psst…tax exemption benefits apply!). This Men’s month, pamper your male friends and family by gifting them a therapy session to rejuvenate their mental health!
WRITER: Nandhitha M