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This Month: Shaping Conversations About Men's Mental Health

This Month: Shaping Conversations About Men's Mental Health

Post by on Friday, June 11, 2021

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CONTENT ALERT: This post mentions suicide, if you or anyone you know is triggered by such information, avoid reading further, alternatively reach out to 24x7 helplines mentioned at the end of the piece.

 

In the recent famous OTT series Family Man Season 2, special agent Srikant Tiwari has lost a few colleagues in a violent attack and is himself injured. He calls his wife and is almost about to cry, but when she asks what’s wrong, he composes himself and says all is well and then later cries alone. This scene is the apt description of how mental health is for most Indian men!

Men’s Health Month is celebrated each year in the month of June hosted by Men’s Health Network since 1992 in the United States of America. But over the decades it has gained global momentum. It aims to bring awareness to the health issues all men face; the entire month is dedicated to enriching men’s health and wellness through a broad spectrum of screening and educational campaigns.

Over the last few years major focus has also shifted to men’s mental health for which the campaign uses the social media hashtags #MensMentalhealth and #ShowUsYourBlue.

Statistics indicate that men deal with more illness than women, and die younger. The month aims at involving all to raise awareness about the importance of male health and to encourage boys and men to live longer and healthier lives.

 

Is Men’s Mental Health specific? How?

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) Trusted Source report; from 2018 three times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also said in the same year, “Men died by suicide 3.56 [times] more often than women” in the United States.

The psychosocial experiences of men in a patriarchal world are specific and different from others since childhood when they are boys. They are given a different set of values as “ideal manhood” and they are supposed to fit into the society's prescribed format of “manliness and masculinity” or what we call “mardangi” in India.

Ages-old sexist ideas about gender are likely both part of the cause behind the development of mental health issues in men and the reason why men are put off from seeking professional help.

In India specifically, our male-dominated culture doesn’t always leave space for men to express inner struggle or share vulnerability; they have to constantly “be strong” and “unlike women.” The cultural messages men receive as children when they are young boys and up through adulthood discourage them from ever letting anyone know they need help more so if it is help related to their mental wellbeing.

Any mental health condition or treatment can’t be “male” or “female” per se, but certain symptoms of mental health issues such as risky behavior, violent anger, and aggression, are more commonly observed in men than women. Men are also more likely to be affected by substance use disorder and involved in violent crimes. As per the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, the prevalence of alcohol use disorders in males was 9% as against 0.5 percent in females.

 

Common Mental Illnesses amongst Men

Going back to the Family Man reference before the incident above, he has visited a counselor with his wife for marital issues but is clearly uncomfortable and non-cooperative about sharing his intimate feelings. Again, a mental barrier most Indian men and people at large have about mental health and seeking help for it.

Depression often goes undiagnosed because men never reach out or speak about it. Every year more than six million men suffer from depression. Both men and women experience depression but the symptoms often manifest differently in both. Men have a higher tendency to turn to substance use and become aggressive when depressed.

5 in 10, so almost half of all men suffer from anxiety disorder, panic attack, agoraphobia or other phobias. Common symptoms might include muscle pain, headache, sleeping issues, anger, and irritability.

90 percent of people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia by the age of 30 are men.

 

Why don’t men talk about mental health?

Societal expectations and traditional gender roles play a significant role as to why men are less likely to discuss or seek help when they struggle with mental health problems. We know that gender stereotypes about women – the idea they should behave or look a certain way, for example – can be damaging to them. But it’s important to understand that men can be damaged by stereotypes and expectations too.

Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and on top of things. While these aren’t inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up.

Some research also suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions could also be less ready to recognize symptoms of psychological problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support for the same.

 

Men and Suicide

There are certain socio-economic, cultural and psychological factors that can place men at a higher risk of suicide than others. Men as a group are at a higher risk for suicide because often, they tend to choose more lethal means of suicide. They’re also often socialized not to show or express emotion, leaving them with the idea that any show of weakness will diminish their “manhood.”

Men who have the following characteristics, behaviors, or circumstances may be at a higher risk of suicide:

Reluctance to seek help to speak to someone about their feelings

Hyper-masculine attitude and consider that crying or failure is okay for others not for men

Socially isolated men who live alone are at a higher risk

Aggressive and impulsive behavior

Risk-taking behavior like unsafe driving, indulging in unsafe adventures

Frequent alcohol or drug use that disrupts everyday functioning

Previous suicide attempt

 

Prominent Indian Men who have spoken publicly

Though a good change has been noticed in the past few years where several men who are public figures have spoken about their mental health challenges. Milind Deora, one of the youngest Cabinet Ministers in India ever spoke to NDTV about his mental health challenges and said, “If my speaking out helps save lives, I'm glad I did.”

India cricket captain Virat Kohli also recently revealed that he battled depression during a difficult tour of England in 2014. He said that he felt like he was the "loneliest guy in the world" after consecutive failures in the game.

Popular Rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh spoke about his alcohol dependence and bipolar disorder in a public interview too. Recently famous senior actor Kabir Bedi has also spoken in his book about the death of his son by suicide and the mental health struggles of both his son and the family during caregiving.

These public conversations become hugely instrumental in breaking the taboo around mental health conversations by men and also can act as the starting point of these difficult conversations in homes and families.

 

What can be done

As a society, we must learn and inform ourselves better about reaching out to men and boys sensitively. Partners, coworkers and families can be alert about the warning signs of mental health struggles or suicide risk for the men in their lives. If a man is becoming more irritable, for example, this is a sign that he’s struggling. At a personal level, we can create a safe space through open, non-judgmental conversation and gentle questioning for men to share and express emotions.

Changes also have to be made about how we raise our boys and teach them about healthy expression of emotions and feelings. How families and society equip young boys with positive coping mechanisms and not seek solace in intoxicants or violence.

In the wake of the recent pandemic also while most of us are going through personal or collective grief most men often restrain themselves from talking about it or sharing their loss and grief, this must change.

Remember emotions have no gender!

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If you or someone else is struggling with mental health please reach out to these helplines

KIRAN – 1800 599 0019 (24×7) — 13 Indian languages

NIMHANS – 080 – 4611 0007 (24×7) — Multiple languages

ICall – 9152987821 (Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.)

Vandrevala Foundation- 9999666555 (24x7) Multiple languages

AASRA – 9820466726 (24x7) Hindi/English

 

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