Mental health is something that has been disregarded in our country and when it comes to men’s mental health there has been even more stigma and lack of awareness. “I’m definitely glad I got that off my chest, as anybody is when you feel like you’re keeping something from someone. You have to speak about it and clear up the air” said the popular singer Zayn Malik in an interview wherein he publicly opened up about his experiences with anxiety and an eating disorder.(1) While I agree to some of the researches that say men and women have different psychologies to an extent because of the different evolutionary roles they have had, I don’t agree with the many gender roles that have been attached to this difference baselessly with time.
Women are considered weak for they are emotionally expressive that is, they can cry out openly, which makes their vulnerability and problems public. Men may even smirk at women for this. What they fail to understand is, that it takes strength to express and that the expression in turn adds on to the strength. Men not being allowed to be expressive by the society is in fact a bane for them. Males, in general, are brought up differently since infancy. “Don’t cry like a girl” is what they often hear and engrain. Its time for the grown-up men as well the parents who have brought up these men to realise this engrained sense of difference. While asking a crying child to stop its expression is itself toxic, accepting a female child crying and shunning a male child is disastrous.
The difference arises even from the basic socialization (2) of boys and girls. Boys are always taught to be evasive of their emotions. It starts from the basic conditioning, where the young child is rewarded for being macho, bold and heroic. The young child is by nature not so aware of the difference but the parents and other socialising agents make it so evident in the behaviour of children even before adolescence. Media has a major role to play in this type of conditioning, where movies show only women shrieking and freaking out. Girls watch “Barbie” while the boys watch “the Hulk”. Media has to promote mental help seeking behaviour in men by providing such hero-models. This difference is visible in some cultures more than the others. Especially, in collectivistic (cultures in which group needs and values dominate) cultures like ours, serials and movies have strong, all capable men portrayal. Family members often remind men to be strong; crying men are ridiculed by siblings and peers to the extent that they become ashamed of themselves.
Reportedly, men in their middle ages commit higher number of suicides. One of the reasons of this according to me is not being able to converse their heart out. Let’s imagine the scenarios of a breakup, a betrayal, while the woman is crying her heart out to her best friend, the man goes out on a bike ride. It doesn’t mean that men don’t have feelings, it’s just that they are taught to suppress them to the extent that it gets channelized in other ways such as aggression. We have to be a little sympathetic towards such men, who have no idea regarding how to deal with their feelings. With growing mental health awareness, with the decreasing inequality among men and women, it’s important to undo the internalisation of the differences. Men shall now stop being ashamed of their feelings and may start expressing and seeking therapy as well. Inequality is not only in terms of women being vulnerable when it comes to mental health and expression of feelings and emotions.
For this change to begin, all of us have to make a conscious decision to be non judgmental of expressive men. We should be wary and shall try to eliminate all those engrained stereotypes that can be revealed in the slightest of our body language and statements. We should stop bashing men for being vulnerable. There has to be a revolutionary change in the family setup, culture and media to reduce this gap when it comes to mental health. Mental health, in general needs to be de-stigmatised with extra effort in the area of men seeking help for their mental wellness and expression.
Michael Phelps, an American swimmer and one of the most decorated Olympian, while talking of his experiences related to opening up about his mental health said, “Since the day (I opened up about my emotions), it’s just been so much easier to live and so much easier to enjoy life”.(3) The change shall begin only when individual males light up this flame in their hearts and open up about their mental health and emotions. In the current scenario, given the dearth of male Mental Health professionals, I also feel more men should enter this arena which shall break the current trend of only women being associated with the fields of care.
– by Aarthy Iyengar.