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Silence Around Men’s Mental Health

A hard look at the ‘silent crisis’ brings focus to the fact that men are 28 times more likely to have a mental health concern such as depression or anxiety at any given point in the year, than prostate cancer. Due to the societal pressure towards men to “be strong” and stoic, any expression of vulnerability is associated with being weak, damaged or not manly enough. The famous depiction of mental health issues as only women’s concern promote a lack of transparency about the same from men’s side, pushing them to man up. Ideas associated with masculinity expect men to be in control, dominant, specific and robust. These traditional expectations have shown to have a detrimental impact on men’s mental health. Nearly 1 in every 10 men have anxiety and depression while they are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women. At least 6 in 10 men experience some form of trauma in their lives. These traumas are usually related to assaults, combat, accidents, injuries or deaths. PTSD can develop over a matter of days, weeks, months or years, and the symptoms can interfere with the daily activities of an individual.

Most common issues faced by men are loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress. Men make up the majority in consumption of news and internet which are related to higher levels of fatigue, sleeplessness and stress. Stress is also increased due to clocking more hours and being overworked. Since 1 in 7 Indians is affected by a mental health issue, overworking can make vulnerable individuals more at risk. Work stress and lack of social support are likely to increase the chances of a man developing a mental health issue. Other concerns for men include bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia and eating disorders! Disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are primarily associated with women; however, 10% of men account for these eating disorders. Men comprise 35% of the people who binge-eat. Still, the mainstream narrative only shows women as binge-eaters or skinny individuals.

Even when most men suffer some mental health issues, they find it difficult to talk about their emotions and thereby failing to recognize the concerns bothering them. Men have shown higher rates of non-disclosure of mental health concerns. Conforming to expectations of self-reliance have proved to be detrimental towards men’s mental health which also makes them potentially more vulnerable to using the substance. Harmful coping methods such as these affect men on a large scale 1 in 10 men develop some kind of substance dependence. Gay, bisexual and military veterans have a higher rate of substance abuse but maybe even more neglected among the tier of men.

A lack of encouragement and minimal support for men propel them to seek help for less stigmatized physical pains which may be symptoms of a mental health concern. In society, men are motivated to hide their feelings and emotions that form the necessary foundation of any human interaction. The consequences emerge as one’s statistics and personal experiences show. They are shunned continuously and driven away from topics which create a safe space for self-expression. However, this results in adults who do not know how to express their needs, concerns or emotions. In a famous Youtube video, people were told they were beautiful. Interestingly, many men showed little emotion or had difficulty in accepting it. This is the result of a society which promotes the suppression of genuine emotions that build up a disconnection from the self. Re-iterating here that an inability to express feelings leads to unawareness regarding mental health concerns and the notion that “real men don’t ask for help” add to the crisis.

Source: Shot from the video “People react to being called beautiful” published in 2015

Although mental health is stigmatized standalone, the levels at which it affects different groups may vary. Thus, the likeliness of a woman being accepted with a mental health concern is more prevalent than a man being accepted for the same. With time there can be increased risk factors for men if these situations persist. Lack of research on men’s mental health can perpetuate the idea that ‘no one cares’ about their mental health. Since men don’t want to burden others with their issues, a lack of dialogue and statements like “boys don’t cry” supports the notion of avoiding mental health support. Men prioritize their mental wellbeing less than women and generally seek lesser help from professionals which has been linked to adherence to masculine norms. Without an open discussion about the same men will continue to feel that they need to fix their issues without any help. The consequence of which many times are social isolation, aggravation of symptoms and increased relational issues. Moving from “more masculine” approaches such as decision making, problem-solving and goal-setting to “less masculine” strategies like opening up about vulnerability, seeking help, taking the risk of discussing emotions and problems openly may take some time. However, conforming to harmful norms at the cost of one’s mental health is a topic which should be discussed more frequently to dismantle it.

Source: Frank Ocean’s album cover titled “Boys Don’t Cry.”

To contextualize the same in the Indian context, Vogue also initiated this ad campaign of #StartWithTheBoys' to sensitize their audiences about emotional support that meant require from an early age. But Vogue campaigns always focus on asking questions but never pay heed to answer any of them. However, the following video would help you understand:

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