“Men are dying too young. We can’t afford to stay silent.”
This is the mission statement on the Movember website. Movember, the punny name for the month of November in which people are encouraged to let their ‘mo’ grow for the duration of the month. In doing so, people are sponsored, the funds raised going towards a cause which supports men’s health, both physical and mental.
This article focuses in on the mental side to that equation, and it is a topic which is unfortunately often overlooked.
In the UK, men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide. This corresponded to 17.2 men in every 100,000 killing themselves in 2018, a significant rise from the 15.5 in every 100,000 in 2017. In the USA, 92.7% of prisoners are male. 79% of people murdered globally are men. A large majority of homeless people in the UK are men. Men work in more dangerous jobs, leading to them being involved in more workplace fatalities than women (and, indeed, contributing to the notion of a gender pay gap).
There is a problem here, that much is obvious. The roots of it, though, are harder to pin down, harder to talk about, and even harder to actually resolve.
Traditionally speaking, men faced an immense amount of responsibility. They have been the ‘breadwinners’, the one’s tasked with working and providing for their family. There is no greater privilege than caring for those you love, but in our modern age of constant problems it’s understandable that men can only care so much until they crack.
“men can only care so much until they crack”
Of course, family dynamics have a changing face at present, which certainly has its positives, but with it brings its own issues. The role of a man is changing. The very meaning of ‘being a man’ is changing. And that questioning of one’s self brings with it all sorts of stresses that weigh on the male psyche. This is very much evident in grown men who are living through this progressive era, as opposed to growing up in it. It’s little wonder then that men aged from 45-49 are the one’s with the highest suicide rate.
Men are also being reminded all the time of the dangers of masculine traits. Obviously, masculinity isn’t an exclusively male feature (with gendered politics right now that is more apparent than ever), but men are generally more masculine and women generally more feminine. It means that when phrases like ‘toxic masculinity’ are tossed about, and words like ‘manspreading’ and ‘mansplaining’ are chucked around haphazardly, the image that being a male, being ‘manly’ is bad is reinforced. It’s not helpful, certainly if we want to have a civil, unbiased conversation about the role of the male in the world today.
“the image that being a male, being ‘manly’ is bad is reinforced”
Naturally, ‘manliness’ does have its problems. The fact that the majority of prisoners are predominantly male indicates an aggression problem fueled by all that extra testosterone. This aligns with the fact that 95% of all people convicted of murder are male. Aggression, or levels of it higher than what is civil, is a male phenomenon. Take away all the social pressures that you like, the fact remains that men have bucketloads of testosterone pumping through them that isn’t going to go away. Ultimately, there is a certain truth in the saying ‘boys will be boys’, a genetic one which even the most progressive cannot escape.
Telling young boys that aggression is bad is not the way to solve the issue, only further confusing this crisis of masculinity. The way forward is teaching these young boys how to harness this aggression, and how to use it for some good.
It also involves telling these aggressive and macho young men (and indeed the more docile and tranquil ones too) that it is okay to admit weakness. Men need to be encouraged not just to identify the problems in their lives, but to talk about these problems too. Drawing back on this image of the ‘breadwinner’, such an archetype had to appear strong amidst all amounts of turmoil, a social pressure which hinders men to this day. Men can still be resilient, but it’s only through facing and dealing with hardship that this resilience can grow.
“Men can still be resilient, but it’s only through facing and dealing with hardship that this resilience can grow”
One only has to flick through the case studies from this Metro article to understand the stigma surrounding men and mental health. “Society has told you to be strong”. “It would affect my career prospects … I wouldn’t be a good Dad”. “It made me feel like a failure”. All of these, said in relation to a man dealing with a mental health issue, whether that be depression, anxiety or something else. This stigma, these attitudes… they need to change.
And that can start with Movember.
Being a man isn’t straightforward. The microcosm of university only complicates this, what with the strange cacophony of laddish bravado and sexual proclivity that the party lifestyle encourages, contrasted with the liberal and progressive ideologies that pervade university life. But Movember gives us all the chance to take a step back and consider the crisis at hand.
A man could be you. A man could be your partner. Your father. Your son. A man could be your friend. A different family member. We all have men in our lives. We all love and treasure these men in our lives. Let’s use this month to help them.
For more information about the Movember campaign and how to support them, you can visit their website here.
Need someone to talk to? The Samaritans are always available to call, 24/7, 365 days a year, on 116 123 for free. You can visit their website for more information here.
Featured image courtesy of marlenedd via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.
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