Men’s mental health continues to gain attention as statistics bring awareness to the harsh reality that men are 3.88 times more likely to die from suicide than women and often silently suffer from high levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Beyond raising awareness, we need to ask the critical question; what is this phenomenon’s root cause?
According to the CDC, nearly one in four women seek out professional therapy, while that number is a mere 13% for men.
Not only are men more likely to avoid seeking help for their internal struggles, but many men also fail to accept or express they are experiencing a mental health crisis in the first place. We are being called to go deeper. To ask, how have we got here in the first place? Why do men struggle to acknowledge and express their emotions and mental well-being?
1. Media’s Influence on Defining a “Man.”
One of the first things that come to mind when talking about ‘The Man’ is the portrayal of manhood and masculinity in mass media. No matter how much talk there is about men being “effeminate” in today’s climate, the classic male figure is still dominated by the macho man, who sees the expression of emotion as a weakness and often solves problems through aggression and dominance.
This macho man depiction has been conditioned in many of us from a young age starting with early morning cartoons that exaggerate masculine stereotypes like men fighting with their fists, engaging in armed combat, driving fast cars, parading around with hulk muscles, and deep voices. In the entertainment industry, especially in sports, it’s not uncommon to see men degrading other men for their expression of emotions. This public display or condemnation of vulnerable expression only feeds the implication that being in touch with who we are and what we feel is still viewed as “unacceptable” by those out of touch with a healthy mentality. A practical step to tackle the depiction of “the man” is to be aware of the media we consume. By bringing awareness to the male role models we give power to, we can influence our biases of how we perceive masculinity, both for ourselves as individuals and our communities.
Whether we reach back for examples in Mythological stories or older movies that expressed a more emotional component for men, what’s most important is that we stay true to our values rather than letting external media define them.
2. Lack of Community
Conditioning boys to be men begins during the early stages of boyhood. Not only are boys discouraged from crying or showing emotion but also displaying certain physical contact with friends like handholding or embracing one another, which might be considered “effeminate” — all of which are natural and essential parts of human connection and development.
The playground or sports field is where most bonding occurs for young boys, as these arenas are seen as an “acceptable” atmosphere for physical engagement and connection.
As boys grow into men, their playgrounds change. Male communities may form around gyms, bars, and sporting events. While both social time and exercise, especially the community martial arts provide, are important, It’s easy for men to get stuck in the same pattern that’s been instilled in them since childhood; don’t show emotion, affection, or any other characteristic that could be considered “feminine.”
This aspect of our culture leads men to believe the only acceptable options for communication and connection are banter or hard physical work, which has discouraged men from openly expressing their emotions and struggles. We can address this lack of emotional ‘space’ by creating more environments for men to openly communicate and having respected men of influence lead by example. When male leaders show that it is acceptable and healthy to express emotion, show vulnerability, and have a healthy male-to-male bond, it is much more likely for more men to follow. In terms of spaces, the modern men’s work and the men’s circle movement are great examples and opportunities for all sons, friends, brothers, and husbands to participate. Check out Sacred Sons, The Modern Renaissance Man, or The ManKind Project.
3. The Doer, but not The Feeler
There is plenty of encouragement and reward for men to do, but not so much encouragement to take a pause and feel.
Most men spend their entire life hustling to feel like they’ve done enough to earn the affirmation of society, their parents, their partner, or their boss. Simply put, we are conditioning men to be doers without the balance of being in touch with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that motivate or hinder action.
For that very reason, many men don’t pause or stop to check in with themselves, or with each other, because they were never taught to do so. They continue riding the ‘hustle wagon’ ‘til the wheels fall off. Which, in this case, leads to severe mental health issues that affect our entire society.
How can we encourage men to pause and feel? Luckily, the movements of mindfulness, meditation, and personal growth are quickly growing and provide tools for males worldwide to learn this exact, very much needed skill. Mindfulness, meditation, and other similar exercises are most likely the number one way for men to get away from the daily grind of doing and allow themselves to pause and feel, perhaps for the first time.
In conclusion: While the battle is fierce, the war is not lost. Men's mental health and men’s struggle to tap into and express emotion are increasingly popular discussion topics. While discussion does not exactly solve the problem, it is a step towards building awareness and acceptance.
This awareness and acceptance allow for a promising new direction in which the modern man can go, to find more meaning, connection, and fulfillment without sacrificing his mental health. All he needs is for us to put our judgments aside and support him unconditionally.