What does it mean to be a man facing a mental health condition? For most men, the inability to reach out for the help that they need is turning into what health professionals are calling a silent crisis. Common beliefs and stereotypes still maintain that men are required to be unemotional and tough; if they show any signs of vulnerability in their persona, it is an admittance of being weak, unworthy and unmanly.
Women have been protesting for years that the ideals set out by the media are unrealistic portals of women. The same is true for men; it’s just not had the same amount. According to Dr. Don McCreary, the co-chair of the Toronto Men’s Health Network, men’s health is a fairly new concept. The self-directed movement of women’s health occurred because women came together to address their own health and well being. Men, on the other hand, don’t want to do that because society endorses an extremely lonely and negative view of men’s health. Society does not encourage an interest in men’s well being, so men build up their own personal barriers based off these unwritten “ideals”. Any deviation from this norm is extremely detrimental for the men involved.
These ideals are so ingrained that many men may not even know that they are out of touch with their emotions. APA President and Nova Southeastern University psychologist Ronald F. Levant, EdD, has defined this phenomenon as “normative male alexithymia” which means, “without words for emotions”. Many boys learn from a young age to suppress certain emotions and actions, such as sadness and crying, and as these boys grow older this suppression inevitably makes them generally unaware of their emotions as well as inhibiting their ability to even describe them.
So what sort of outcome does this produce? Well, according to the data from a Statistics Canada Health Survey, women are 1.5 times more likely to than men to seek psychiatric help, twice as likely to consult a psychologist, and 2.5 times more likely to turn to a general practitioner. In another study, based in the UK, reports showed that men are by far more likely to have alcohol or drug related problems, suggesting that men are more likely to self-medicate with abusive substances.
Where it gets most tragic is, among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male. In the UK and in Canada, men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women, and in New South Wales, Australia, suicide has surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death in males since 1991.
This crisis cannot be silent anymore. May 6-12 is Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week; awareness is rising but more funding and research is needed to get a better understanding of what men need to do to improve their mental welfare.
As human beings, we all need help sometimes, so the difficult task comes in re-teaching men that it is normal and okay to want help. Health professionals are finding more ways to reach out to men; many are hiring more male counselors and campaigns are becoming more prominent, such as the “Real men. Real Depression” campaign launched by the National Institute of Mental Health. Even Movember is promoting “awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health”.
So, get involved, start a conversation, and reach out to those around you, because chances are there are men in your life that may require some level of support that they haven’t voiced. We can only create a more positive future for men’s health by breaking the silence.
Danielle Roberts graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Calgary in 2010, following her passion for reading and writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys spending her time running, playing video games, or hanging out with her family and friends.
Photo courtesy of My Alternative Photo.