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Men Need Help

Guest Blogger
Trigger Warning: Suicide, homophobia, sexism.

Our culture, for some time now, has been training men how to kill themselves. We teach them to avoid communicating about negative feelings they feel. We teach them to not seek medical attention for mental health concerns. We even teach them not to acknowledge it themselves, internally! The message to men has been that every problem they ever face has to be dealt with on their own, or resolve itself on its own. That too much is riding on their commitments, and those that depend on them. The image we project to those we love, our friends, our family, even our enemies, is paramount. There is no room for emotional weakness. Real men have more important things to worry about than the sad feelings they feel, and to insinuate otherwise would not be manly enough. The cultural parallels between the ability to endure hardship-or at the least not advertise a lack of endurance of it- and the overall worth and character of a person cause this thinking. It is quite literally killing us. Men are diagnosed with depression half as often as women, but take their own life four times as often.

Half as vocal, four times the suicides. There has never been a more apparent line drawn from the way men are taught to act, how they actually feel, and what becomes of that conflict.

This isn’t to say that we aren’t making progress, because we are. Every day I find something to be proud of when it comes to men’s mental health. Organizations providing resources, individuals fighting the stigma, and people beginning to say, “Okay, enough is enough. We get it, men need help.” While awareness of the problem is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s important to begin identifying many of the roots that have grown from these stigmas. Things we never consider, but experience every day. Many of the things I discuss here you may have never personally experienced, seen, or even knew existed as a problem at all. The things discussed here are certainly not the only cause of the decline in men’s mental health, nor the only reason we refuse to address it. I am not here to paint with the broadest of brushes and say this is the status quo for all men. However, it certainly is prevalent enough to be a tangible issue.

Being a Woman is an Insult
“You throw like a girl!” - “My wife could do better than you!” - “Quit being such a little girl about it!” - “I might as well call you ma’am instead of sir!” - “If you’re struggling, maybe you should try the women’s version instead!”

I don’t think anyone can truly deny that a significant presence of the toxic masculine environment that creates isolated and suppressed emotions, stems from the correlation between emotions and being a woman. The stereotypes towards women’s emotions, strength, and general constitution, when compared to men, are endless; Women cry more, they easily panic, startle, or worry, they’re weaker than men, they make decisions emotionally and rashly, they aren’t as good of critical thinkers as men, and so on. These horrifyingly stigmatized viewpoints, while incredibly untrue, form a thick callus on top of an already significant issue: Sexism towards women, and the stigma that they are inferior to men in some way, is still incredibly real and prevalent.

How can we expect to tackle the issues surrounding men’s mental health, when one of the major social factors that plays into men’s emotions and feelings is comparing them to a woman, in an attempt to make them feel poorly about themselves? Not only are we attempting to frame emotional expression as a bad thing, we simultaneously have allowed this to be connected to weakness as a woman. This speaks volumes, not only in regards to our views on men’s mental health, but to a much more widespread problem that easily inflames men’s mental health issues.

Men’s Mental Health and Homophobia
I think it’s important to note that this mentality carries over into multiple demographics of people, who are presented in a negative way due to this stigma. The queer community has been at the backend of masculine toxicity throughout all of history. Calling someone gay is used as an insult. insinuating a straight man is, does things that are, or is attracted to homosexuals is used as a deterrent for specific behaviors, or just to simply intend on harming someone with words. When this kind of comparison becomes a status quo, creating a feeling of shame or isolation in those that are called those things, it fuels homophobia.

“I don’t want to be the one that’s called gay, so I’ll be as strongly against it as possible. I’ll stuff my feelings, hide any vulnerability and immediately disavow the concept of being gay when someone calls me that.” Once more, a method of training men to avoid emotion, discussion of “non-masculine” topics or “non-masculine” behavior has caused a divide, not only between men and mental health wellness, but between straight men and the queer community. What this does to men who have yet to come out is even more detrimental, but that subject deserves its own discussion. Many of the same issues parallel with what I’ve mentioned above regarding stigmas towards women, and with this, the pattern continues to grow: “Men are superior to women, and straight men are superior to gay men. Women and the queer community are equally weak, for similar reasons. Those groups talk about their feelings, explore their alternative interests and feel all emotions freely and vulnerably. Don’t be like them. To be like them, is to be inferior.”

The Destruction of the Inner (and Outer) Child
When we’re children, we are often told-regardless of age- that it’s time we started acting with maturity. “You’re 8, you aren’t a baby anymore so quit acting like it.” There is often a long-standing rush put onto children to stop behaving like, well, children. We constantly remind them they aren’t as young as they used to be. In school, we remind them every year that the upcoming year will be harder, and they won’t be able to get away with the same things they did when they were younger. When they show emotions, cry, have tantrums or find themselves in a moody state, they’re told to shake off whatever issue they have and quit behaving poorly.

If you raise children to constantly believe their expression of negative emotions is actually just poor behavior, they begin to suppress and internalize the negative emotions. Imagine that.

This is only an issue during childhood though, right? Surely once we enter the exalted phase of adulthood, we can behave how we’d like? Wrong.

“Quit being such a baby!” - “Aw, are you gonna cry about it?” - “Do you need a nappy? Are you cranky?”

Just as we draw parallels between weakness and being queer or a woman, so do we relate the same expression of feeling and emotion to being a baby, or a child. How can we expect to have men with well-adjusted emotions, who were taught from the earliest of ages that negative emotions are equated with bad behavior? Through childhood we are told to grow up, and when we’re adults we’re told to not act like children. If we’re too young and need to be old, and then immediately too old to be young, where does our inner (and outer) child truly fit in? When is it their turn?

And there it is. The true belief in superiority, once again. Adults are simply better than children. Get out of childhood as fast as possible, and leave all the emotional development and expression obtained with it at the door. Things related to child-like behavior can cause something as simple as painting to be viewed as weak, or uncharacteristic of a “true man.” Our inner child deserves a voice, especially for those that lost them before they even spoke.

I have no doubt that the things I’ve stated here are going to bother folks. This probably isn’t the constructive and practical advice one would expect from a male author during Men’s Health Month. However, we as men have backed ourselves into two different corners, simultaneously. We have abandoned our mental health, and in the process, condemned others for theirs. We have established a baseline for true masculinity, and chastised any demographic, no matter the age, gender or sexual orientation, that did not align. We have done this to the point of using their differences from us as a measuring tool for guilt amongst each other. The same contempt that was used to define other people has now been turned against men, by men, who now kill themselves rather than face those feelings, and yet we wonder why we do not speak up. The environment that our masculine society has created is simply doing what it is supposed to do: Make someone feel weak. We are now discovering that hate is a force that cannot be controlled. In a fire, everyone gets burned.

This is not the case for all men. This is not the case for even a large majority of men. These issues are not the only things that affect men’s mental health, either. However, these problems do exist in the world we live in. We see these things happen, and accept that they’re on their way out. We hear the stigma towards others, a stigma ring so strongly that it has spread to men themselves and corrupted our ability to care for ourselves mentally without a pointed finger, and we still just fight for awareness.

We are already aware. However, I would like to end on a more positive note:

If you find yourself struggling mentally, and have hesitation to address it, ask yourself why. Then ask why to the answer you give. Why am I afraid to talk about my mental health? Because others will think I’m weak. Why would they think I’m weak? Because if I can’t take care of myself how can I take care of other things? Why would anyone think that about us? Continue to break down your own stigmas, and if you find yourself at a dead end, looking into the eyes of another person who you have tried to avoid, talk to them. There is a part of you that deserves to exist, so let it.


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