Uncovering men’s mental health

By Rhydian Morris

Modern society has many problems, but one that often goes unadressed is the poor state of male mental health.  This is such huge problem, as suicide is the most likely cause of death for men under the age of 35; and yet somehow it remains unnoticed.

Fortunately, a brave documentary by British rapper Professor Green has brought this topic into the limelight. He successfully tackled the emotional impact of his father’s suicide and how the way men behave socially contributes to the appalling statistic of male suicide.

No specific strategy exists to tackle the underlying issue of why so many men see no other option but to end their lives. In many cases the increasing rate of suicide and depression among men can be attributed to the poor economic situation of the country. Men feel a sense of helplessness as they are unable to financially provide for their families and achieve success.

While the analysis that the increasing rates of mental illness and suicide is related to factors of our changing society and economy is correct, it ignores another key issue, which is the way men are socialised and the social expectations and pressures placed on them, affects their ability to handle hardship.

When most people think of what a man should be, they tend to throw around words like “strong” “confident”, “stoic”. This is an issue, as one of the biggest factors reported as shaming and stigmatising men suffering from mental health issues, is being seen as “weak”. Men who do not fit into this stereotype suffer significant damage to their self esteem and worth.  Many men then go on to deny their emotional wellbeing and mask the behaviour though alcohol, drugs or any number of other unhealthy coping mechanisms. One of the common things said by relatives and friends of individuals that have committed suicide is that “he never really opened up or talked about what was bothering him”. There is also an expectation amongst men that if they ask for help, none will come, which contributes to a sense of helplessness around the situation.

The way men socialise doesn’t facilitate the open and non-judgemental discussion of emotions. When men are struggling, they tend to diminish or mask the issue involved. While women may often confide and seek support from close friends, many men simply don’t tell anyone. This is a trait that men learn at an early age and it can become very difficult to overcome this way of handling emotions and open up when a mental health condition is present. Many men simply do not have the ability to speak about their emotions in a healthy way.

On this point I decided to ask Yik Yak here at Swansea on the top insecurities male students felt. The majority response was that male students most felt insecure or self conscious about their lack of ability to pull women on nights out, or for still being a virgin. This isn’t that suprising, as one of the traits of being seen as a “man” is the ability to be sexually promiscuous.

“Lad Culture” which is a subculture increasing among male university students, can have a devastating impact on male students mental health and sense of self worth.  Lad culture discourages true emotional connection amongst men and there is a significant pressure on sleeping around and “pulling”. One yik yak commenter explained that they felt a pressure “to pull on nights out otherwise the night is seen as wasted”. Men are expected to feel shame for their percieved lack of sexual life or experiences, and the unfortunate thing is that a substantial portion of many male students self worth is tied to this. This concept of being of low worth or social status if your not sexually active is encouraged by the media and society in general.

While extensive campaigns and movements have been created to prevent women feeling shame over being sexually active, there has been no such drive for men in the opposite direction. Men should absolutely not feel their worth is less as a human, on the basis of how many people they have slept with.

To anyone struggling I just want to say that your worth isn’t tied to how much you fit into a stereotype perpetuated by the media and society. You are worthwhile, and you shouldn’t feel shame or face stigma for struggling emotionally. Seeking help for a mental health condition takes strength and those who are worth your time will support you if you ask for it. Hopefully with time men will feel more able to open up emotionally and feel less shame and stigma for doing so. The more men speak up about this issue, the greater the likelihood that significant change will occur.