What exactly is a ‘real man’? Why are so many people obsessed with their outdated precepts of masculinity? What exactly do phrases such as ‘man up’ and ‘grow a pair’ actually achieve?
It is questions like these I find flitting through my mind when I read articles such as this one. It’s all so peculiar. Why is it socially acceptable to degrade a man’s sense of self worth by undermining his lack of masculinity? Sadly it seems to have become something of a staple mark of modern society. What a lot of people do not seem to realise is just how much of a disastrous impact this can have on someone’s mental well-being:
-According to recent studies suicide is the main killer of men aged between 20 and 49 in the UK. This has surpassed other known killers, such as testicular cancer and heart disease.
– just 23% of men would see a GP if they had felt low for a period of longer than two weeks, compared with 33% of women. As a result depression in men is generally under-diagnosed.
What do all of these points demonstrate? Well they suggest that men have a much more negative perception of talking about their emotions and are much less likely to accept support even if it is there. Why is this? Well the answer is pretty clear cut – when it comes to mental health treatment, men are at a far more a significant disadvantage when compared to women.
Take the Prime Minister’s recent speech where he pledged almost a billion pounds towards the mental health service, specifically towards those with eating disorders. Clearly this is a step to be applauded in the grand scheme of things. Eating disorders obviously affect both of the sexes and it is an issue that has been sidelined until very recently.
Yet given the statistics above, is it not fair to ask if enough is being done to placate the needs of half of the United Kingdom’s population? Does this move by the government really create a level playing field that gives men just as much of a chance of getting the support that many women have? Surely as a society we should be focusing on strategies that are male specific, seeing as our current ‘gender blind’ system is failing to save the lives of men who should have had their whole futures to look forward to.
How did we allow things to get this bad?
I will admit that I am not particularly open about my own depression. I suppose it is because some part of me feels as though I am not really supposed to express myself, no matter how much mental agony I find myself in. I suppose you could blame my introverted nature or a misplaced sense of pride or any number of things. On the other hand, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that some of it is due to the fact that I am biologically male, and thus, as a result of these social constructs of society’s making, I subconsciously conform to my expected gender role.
Also it is poignant that it is depressed men who are more likely to self medicate with drugs, in contrast to women, who are more likely to turn to family/friends for emotional support. This is probably the reason why there are three times as many men who currently receive treatment for drug abuse than women. I myself have on several occasions been guilty of self medicating with alcohol. In the short term the pain seems to just float away. Of course, it is the morning after where the realisation kicks in that I have made my situation worse rather than better.
I remember once when a close friend of mine went to the university student services for help with his mental health problems. I had recommended it to him in the first place. While it was hardly a solution to my troubles, I found that it still helped to talk to someone. Imagine my dismay when I found out that he had been turned away, for the sole reason that his problems were ‘too severe’ for them to help him.
His faith in the system was never great to begin with, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then I remember feeling angry. I was angry that a university, an institution purportedly known for its high level of education, had been short sighted enough to turn someone away who had asked for help and not even attempted to point him in the right direction.
More significantly however, he was convinced that if he were a woman who wore her heart on her sleeve, he would have got a rather different response. Yet, he found that he could not just break down there and then, as much as he felt like it at the time.
Why did he feel like this? What could possibly be wrong with showing how much he was hurting?
While there is obviously no way to prove that an out-pour of emotion would have got him the help he desired, I feel that this scenario poses interesting questions in regards as to how people’s gender can influence exactly how they are treated by others.
The road ahead…
A recent poll carried out that asked its recipients of their opinion of the concept of ‘masculinity’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results revealed that younger men tend to have a lower opinion of masculinity and the connotations that are associated with it.
While I don’t fully subscribe to the view that masculinity is necessarily a ‘dirty word’, I do think it a somewhat arbitrary one. The fact is, the vast majority of human beings embody both male and female characteristics. Take myself for example. I do not show emotion readily, which is considered to be a masculine trait. Yet I work in early years teaching; a job that requires me to be nurturing, and one that is overwhelmingly dominated by females. Does this bother me? Thankfully not.
Yet this fantastical representation of what a man should be still persists throughout society.
So how do we rid ourselves of this unachievable standard that is expected of men? It will be a long arduous road, but there are a things we can all do to take the first steps:
–Have suicide prevention strategies in place that are specific to men. After all, it has widely accepted that men tend to deal with mental illness in a different way to women. GPs, along with friends and family should make themselves aware of signs of male depression, and approach the matter accordingly.
-Support campaigns that raise awareness to this issue, which can only help to reduce the stigma that there seems to be against male depression.
-It is also important to correlate the link between drug abuse and mental illness, seeing as the two often go hand in hand when it comes to men suffering with depression.
What are your thoughts on the link between masculinity and depression? Have you experienced any of the above yourself? If so, feel free to share your stories.
Emotional support helplines:
Samaritans :116 123
Sane Line:0845 767 8000