International Men's Day (November 19)
As someone in a family predominately filled with men and studying mental health, Men's Mental Health is a soft spot of mine. I am no expert, do not have a wealth of knowledge nor much experience. This piece is simply my own brief thoughts and views on the topic.
Today is International Men's Day.
The purpose of this day isn't focused on mental health, but rather a broad intention to reflect on the contributions, sacrifices and progress made by men, gender equality, highlighting positive male role models for younger generations, as well as parenting and promoting a healthy lifestyle for men, which includes mental health.
As mentioned above, Mental Health in general is something that both interests and alarms me.
When I feel down for whatever reason, or I'm simply not feeling myself I know that my best friends are a call, a message, a visit away. I've done it plenty of times, opened up to them, and they've opened up to me.
Sometimes, every now and then, when I'm comfortable enough and things have bubbled up enough, I let it out with tears of frustration, tiredness, anger or sadness. There's not really any repercussions to this, whoever is the unlucky person I'm with will pat me on the back, give me a cuddle and some supportive words, and we might be laughing not long later.
I am unsure how I would cope in a 'man's world'.
75% of Australian suicides are men.
It doesn't take a genius or someone educated to see the societal differences in how (most) women and men deal with their problems, everyday stresses and life challenges.
To generalise, women speak another language. That "feelings" language.
We talk about deep topics to friends over coffee (not me, I hate coffee, but you know what I mean).
Women tend to get together and talk, just for fun. We've been doing it for years.
During lunch at high school, while most boys were playing footy or foursquare, most girls were lounging out on a nice bit of grass just talking; maybe about nonsense, or the boy we liked, or the friend that has upset us, or the thing mum or dad did to make us angry. We're conditioned to do it, we have practice. And within our gossip and chatter, we express our feelings, our worries, our fears.
Maybe we hold back a little bit, but, for the most part, we're able to let things out.
Boys, not so much.
I'm not sure if it's testosterone, society or the way they are wired but they seem to have this need to be the biggest, strongest, most dominant versions of themselves.
I think they suppress feelings so much as teenagers, because they 'aren't supposed to be feeling them' because they've been told all their lives not to 'cry like a baby' or 'act like a girl' and so they subconsciously hide them, bottle them up or they let them out either in private, or in anger or violence.
As they get older, the problems get bigger and they never really learnt that it's okay to face them, it's okay to feel them, the way those girls learnt on the grass at lunch, or at their sleepovers or watching their mother cry when she was sad.
People react differently to a crying man than they do a crying woman.
Growing up I saw my Nan cry multiple times, a fight with a family member, a pet passing away, those sorts of things. I'd have to rack my brain to remember them. But, I will never ever forget the first time (and one of the only times) I saw my Grandfather cry. I remember every detail before, during and after it. I remember where we were, who was there and why he was crying. I remember I felt like the world was ending. And it's not because I loved my Grandfather more, or I was more affected by his sadness than I was my Nan's, but because 'men don't cry'.
And that's the thing, even as a little kid, I was under the impression men aren't meant to cry, they are strong and brave. Why? Because that's what society had unintentionally taught me, that's what it's taught us all. How do you unteach something? Remove stigmas or beliefs that a whole nation (and bigger) holds? How do you tell a man, who his whole life has been told NOT to cry, to cry?
It's not just about tears, it's also about feeling and talking.
Despite what we see or hear, low self-esteem, body image issues, lack of self love and feeling a bit down are not things exclusive to the female gender. Although, you'll usually hear about it from a female perspective because males 'aren't meant to' have those issues.
Yet, sometimes, they are hidden in plain sight, the charismatic funny guy that everyone loves mightn't actually love himself, and the guy at the beach walking around confidently with his top off mightn't actually be all that confident at all.
I don't know. Maybe sometimes, we overcompensate for what we lack. If I act happy maybe eventually I'll just be happy. If I act like I don't care, maybe eventually I actually won't care.
The idea that anyone is 'weak' because they admit they are struggling with something infuriates me.
That... in this day and age, is the strongest thing you can do. That takes guts.
Holding things in isn't strong or brave, no, it's letting them out that makes you more of a man.
Being able to rise above the water that's drowning you and admitting at least to yourself, or someone close to you, "I'm really struggling with..." "I'm really stressed about..." "I feel like..."
Showing emotion doesn't make you less man, but rather more.
Whenever I have seen a boy cry it's always been followed with an apology, with feelings of shame or embarrassment. I think that's the saddest part about it. To see them feel so embarrassed and ashamed about something that is so natural, something they have every right to do.
I know from my own experiences with men close to me. When I've realised they 'aren't perfect' is when they've become even more perfect to me. It's when I've loved them more, admired them most. And felt closest to them. Because it's their raw, honest, human selves.
It doesn't matter the severity of an issue. Sometimes we let problems build up, maybe it wasn't that bad to begin with, but the more we've held it, alone, the more it's grown. Maybe just saying it out loud will deflate it, maybe it'll be like letting a balloon go before tying it up, and watching it wiz around the room releasing all its air. Maybe it won't. But at least you won't be alone, at least you'll be on the right track to feeling better. At least you're over the first, and most daunting, speed bump.
I'm no expert and I don't claim to know the solution to a problem this big. But, surely we need to change both female and male mind frames. Surely we need to raise our boys to express emotion and not suppress; encourage them to talk about how they feel whether it's a serious topic or simply debriefing their day, and lead by example; let little kids see the male role models in their lives show appropriate emotion.
We need to change the ideas behind 'strong' and 'weak' and being 'a man' or being 'a coward'.
The wording we use seems like such a simple thing, yet can have the largest impact and is probably the most challenging to change.
As someone who works with kids, it's easy to say things like "be brave" "come on, you're strong" when trying to calm a crying boy after something minor like a fall, or a tantrum when they aren't getting their own way.
There's a fine line between teaching resilience, and teaching to suppress emotion.
It's still a work in progress, for me and for our society.
With many amazing campaigns, we are slowly making that shift. Man Up and Movember's 'Man of More Words' are a couple of my favs. (I'll leave links at the bottom)
We can't change the whole world but maybe the best thing we can do is just change ourselves.
Be aware of your mind frame, be aware of what you're saying to or showing younger kids, be aware of your thoughts and how you're feeling, be aware of the men in your life and how they are going.
You might think "all the guys I know are fine" but they have down days, insecurities and emotions too.
No matter our gender, be there for people.
Be a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on.
And, if you're a man, the next time you're having a beer with a mate, hanging out with your brother, laying in bed with your girlfriend/boyfriend, sitting on the couch with your mum, working in the shed with your dad or driving in the car with your sister, tell them how you are going, bring stuff up, talk... be the best kind of brave.
Happy International Men's Day to the guys who love, support & influence me most.
Australian Men's Health Forum
10 Surprising Facts About Men's Mental Health
Man Up Campaign video
Movember Campaign video
Man Up Website