“I am no less a man because I fear. I am no less a man because I am mentally ill. I am no less a man because only I get to decide what it means to be a man.”Shawn Henfling
What makes us human is that we can emote, and we can empathise. Empathy, by definition, is the capacity to share in and understand another’s emotions. As mental health garners more attention from people today, we must keep in mind that with each person breaking a boundary, there is someone out there reinforcing it. This is not to be pessimistic, but to gain a clearer understanding of the reality of the stigma that runs deep and still surrounds mental illness. As June, which is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, comes to a close, we must recognise and continue the conversation about men’s mental health well into the future.
Perception of Mental Health and Mental Illness
Mental Health Awareness and Literacy programs aim to provide a more positive perception and image of mental illness. To reach this goal, the first and most crucial step is to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health issues, followed by maintaining this positive perception by having more platforms and professionals from whom to seek help. In India itself, studies show that descriptions of mental illness are either associated with negative or violent connotations or ignorant and pitiful attitudes towards patients of mental illness. Even more shocking are the emotions attached towards people with mental health issues – sympathy, apathy, fear, and disgust as some of them.
Global statistics issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show the prevalence of mental illness affecting one in every four people, making it the leading health concern worldwide! Out of a global population of 7.7 billion people, approximately one-fourth of us live with mental health issues. If that is not a collective cry for help, what is?
Here are a few steps we can take at an individual level to reach the goal of positive mental health perception:
- Let’s educate ourselves! As the familiar saying goes – “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” There can be no excuses for being a hypocrite; advocating mental health awareness involves at least a fundamental and healthy understanding of what mental health issues entail at a medical as well as emotional level.
- Let your family, partner, colleagues, and friends know what you know. At the end of the day, we cannot enforce our beliefs on others – sometimes, even if they are closest to us. Spreading awareness isn’t a passive act, but it doesn’t have to be approached aggressively either. People listen best when they are presented with factual information from reliable sources in a non-confrontational manner. If even after your efforts, they do not wish to change their beliefs, there is still a whole audience out there who will hear you out, with social media being the leading platform for public discourse on such matters.
- Speak up to a public audience! There can be no excuses for being a hypocrite; educating ourselves is the first step, but there is little change that can occur if we do not spread the message. In the past, countless atrocities and injustices have been brought to light through mass movements and the general public’s recognition of accountability. Start your own Twitter thread, Instagram page, or Facebook group; create videos, share experiences, and, most importantly, be open-minded! Gaining first-hand experience with mental health campaigns for spreading awareness can also give us many insights into the reality of mental health issues. Our participation in them can only help us and those who are struggling. Seeing all the support they get can encourage them to be more open.
- Seek help yourself! Many a time, we invest so much of our time and energy into advocating for mental health awareness that we overlook or repress our own needs and struggles. Psychologist Marsha Linehan says from experience that some psychologists themselves do not give as much attention to their mental health as they need to because they are concerned with damaging their professional integrity. However, we must remember that it is normal to face problems that lie out of the ordinary. We all have different reactions and predispositions to similar circumstances. We do not need to change ourselves, but the definition itself of what constitutes as ‘abnormal.’
Celebrities Advocating Men’s Mental Health:
Shawn Mendes addressing his struggle with severe anxiety as a musician and performer- “I knew people who had found it kind of hard to understand, but then when it hits you, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’”
Michael Phelps, an Olympic Swimmer expressing his views on mental health struggles as a man – “We’re supposed to be this big, macho, physically strong human beings, but this is not a weakness. We are seeking and reaching for help.”
Virat Kohli speaking for stress among sportsmen - “I think these things should be of great importance because if you think that a player is important enough, for the team and for Indian cricket to go forward, I think they should be looked after.”
Chris Evans narrates his experience with struggling with anxiety and seeking help from a professional – “I do struggle. I get anxiety about certain things like press conferences. I asked every human being in my life what they thought and they said I should do the movie (Avengers), and then I went for therapy. I thought, I’ll talk to my therapist and see what they have to say.”
Abhinav Bindra, Olympic Shooter and gold-medalist, opens up about the pressures he imposed on himself as a professional and the toll it took on his mental health - “I abused my passion. I did not maintain a balance. By abuse, I mean the single-minded focus on one thing.”
Singer Zayn Malik opened up to the public about his struggles with an eating disorder as well as anxiety. Upon going public in an interview with Us Weekly, Malik said, “I’m definitely glad I got that off my chest, as anybody is when you feel like you’re keeping something from someone. You have to speak about it and clear up the air.”
Milind Deora, a senior leader of Congress, speaks on suicidal ideation and coping mechanisms - “I encountered suicidal thoughts around the age of 16-17…The second wave hit me when I was an MP.”
Stop Saying ‘Man Up’ and Start ‘Opening Up’
Stigma symbolises the walls holding up conventional beliefs and stereotypes of a society that should have left us decades ago. We can only begin a new tradition of openly discussing mental illness among men when we provide a space that feels safe and without harsh judgement or consequences.
The social stigma is such that it sinks its claws deep into social roles and images that many men feel almost compelled to adhere to. Stepping away from these traditional roles usually holds many consequences, such as harsh words and judgement, social exclusion. Phrases like ‘man up,’ ‘boys/men don’t cry,’ and ‘you can’t take care of your family if you are weak’ all need to be consciously removed from our vocabulary if we are to see any positive change.
Here are some more social pressures boys/men face daily that we need to stop reinforcing:
- Toxic Masculinity — Many men get thrown into the fruitless cycle of toxic masculinity from the day they are born. Studies show that it is one of the leading causes of depression in men. Having our emotions belittled and neglected often leads to suppression of emotion. When men are always told to be ‘strong’ and not express their sadness or emotional vulnerability towards an upsetting situation, this pent up sadness eventually comes out in a dysfunctional form of depression.
- Male Gender Stereotypes and Social Roles — Many mental health concerns for men can also be linked to stereotyped behaviour reinforced by patriarchal systems, especially in collectivistic societies and joint family settings. ‘Man of the family,’ ‘head of the family,’ ‘following in your father’ s/grandfather’s footsteps’ are all commonly experienced compulsions for men, and are usually reinforced from a very young age. This gives rise to many burdensome responsibilities and complexes where failure is out of the question.
Gender Disparities in Disorders and Therapy
A lack of knowledge surrounding men’s mental health can be accounted for by the higher rates of diagnosis and treatment among women than men. Men are more hesitant to seek help from or approach a professional under fear of people knowing and resorting to ridicule and judgment. Even the way certain disorders are perceived has been directly correlated to the stigma surrounding men’s mental health issues. ‘Masculine’ stereotypes are associated with disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder and Addictions. ‘Feminine’ stereotypes are more commonly associated with Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder.’ The very symptoms of the disorders mentioned above fall in line with gender stereotypes.
For example, while it is true that eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders are more prevalent in women, it is important to keep two points in mind –
- There is data supporting the fact that of all those diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia, 10-15% are male!
- It all still comes around to gender roles and norms related to men and women’s body-types as perceived ‘ideal’ by social standards.
More than one-third of men struggling with mental illness only spoke up about it to friends or family after two years! This is in comparison to 25% of women.
Failure and hardships are all part of life’s erratic journey if one thinks about it philosophically. We all experience them at one point or another. How we perceive them and how others perceive them is vital to recovery. Men are not weak or failures for experiencing mental health issues and seeking help. Spread messages of positivity and the benefits of bringing the conversation around mental illness to the forefront.
In this journey of your ups and downs, we at EMOTICONS India are there to support you and lend a helping hand to one and all! You are not alone!
Contact us on www.emoticonsindia.com
or on Instagram @emoticonsindia