This is part of our blog series written in conjunction with our lovely corporate partner, InterQuest Group, across Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.
Trigger warning: This article speaks about suicide.
Just be a man will you?
Man up and get it done.
Big boys don’t cry.
Oh grow some… well, I don’t need to complete that one really!
Our everyday language very much portrays men as the big and strong one, the provider for the family, the one that goes out to work and earns the money, the boss, the leader. Whilst this isn’t really true these days (let alone politically correct) – it’s still very much what’s said, what’s done and what’s implicitly expected. In fact, we can be honest and say that to insult a man, you just have to call him weak.
Mental health problems are reported to affect 1 in 4 of us – however – the problem with this statistic is that it doesn’t take into account unreported mental health problems. It is said that 20.7% of women will present with a mental health problem, however only 13.2% of men will. Yet when you look at rates of death by suicide, 78% of all recorded deaths were male, with 22% female. Somehow, the statistics are really not adding up.
Because of the statistics, mental health services are much more geared towards women – which, at the end of the day, it makes perfect sense for them to be, as that’s who is more likely to be open and talking about it. Even looking at the Spark Peer Support Group, only 10% of our group identify as male. That, unfortunately, makes accessing them for men considerably more difficult and even the help that they can give a lot less appropriate. Generally, acts of self-care that are portrayed as “real” self-care such as a long bath, fresh sheets, getting dressed up… they don’t work for men.
The entire concept of masculinity is essentially around hiding feelings. You have to be brave, you have to be strong – and if you don’t, then you have failed. You’re a failure as a man. You’ve failed your family. This notion is horrifically damaging, as this then leads to the perpetuation of the feelings that mental illnesses can make you feel.
Admittedly, in caveman times, it was probably a major requirement to be able to protect your family, as sabre-toothed tigers don’t tend to mess around. Whilst women weren’t allowed to and expected not to work, then it was necessary to be able to provide for your family. But we don’t live in those times any more. It’s no longer who we are – we can be strong, we can provide for our family, but “showing weakness” is absolutely something that we really need to improve on. Even classing what weakness is, we absolutely need to sort ourselves out with this, because it’s costing people their lives. When faced with the choice of talking about what’s going on in your head or dying by your own hand, it should never, ever be the best option to die. Of course – it’s not that simple, there’s an awful lot more to the choice than that.
Essentially, we’ve got to break down the walls. Mental illness is coming up more and more on television, in the news and wonderfully in general conversation – however we seem to be missing out on it! There’s absolutely no good reason for it either. Men suffer with depression. Men suffer with anxiety. Men suffer with bipolar disorder. Men suffer from personality disorders. This stuff is happening, this stuff is real and it really is about time we addressed it.
Thing is, it’s so easy to do. All we’ve got to do is start being honest with each other. If you’re in the pub with a pint, and your mate says “How’s things?” – BE HONEST! If you’re not okay, say that! Tell them how you actually feel, not some macho, testosterone-fuelled version of what’s going on, because there’s nothing at all worse than battling demons on your own in your mind and feeling that you have nobody to talk to about it. Talk to your partner about it – believe it or not generally, women like to know that men have feelings too and aren’t emotionless robots!
We need to talk about this at work too. Whoever you work for, if we can show that it’s okay to talk about these things – others will follow. It truly is an awesome thing when you open up and then someone else admits that they’re suffering too. It’s like a good tub of Pringles – once you pop, you just can’t stop, plus people love to share them! It might also be like a can of worms – once you open it, there’s no going back. But worms are needed to help things grow in the soil, to nourish and allow plants to breathe. So maybe, it’s better to let these worms out?
It’s time to stop using toxic phrases like man up, like, be a man. Real men do cry. Real men do feel. Real men share their feelings. Real men listen.
Mental illness is just that. It’s an illness. It’s something that’s gone wrong in our brain. It’s a bug, it’s a coding error, it’s a wiring problem. Wiring can be fixed, code can be rewritten, bugs can be patched. There truly is always help available – it just takes getting the right professional involved.
This is important. If you are struggling with feelings of self-harm or suicide at the moment, please check out crisis page out and please get some of the help that you truly deserve.