BY: NADIA ZAIDI
Featured Illustration by Xulin Wang
Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day was on June 13, 2017, and it served as a reminder that men, too, can suffer from anxiety, depression and a range of mental illnesses. The constructs of masculinity are so culturally engrained, as to exclude any deviation from what it means to “be a man.” Despite the strides we have made to de-stigmatize mental illness, it remains engendered as though it wears a pink coat.
Women aren’t psychologically predisposed to mental illnesses even though they may be more likely to suffer from it. Being greater inclined to experience a disease doesn’t exclude it from affecting males. One in five women (19.7 per cent), and one in eight men (12.5 per cent) are diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
There is nothing funny about mental illness, and certainly nothing weak about those who suffer from it. Battling a mental illness takes strength, resilience and willpower. Seeking help requires bravery and honesty.
It’s unfortunate that men are made to feel weak by expressing their feelings, and we constantly perpetuate these ideas within the public sphere. Patriarchal notions of masculinity only serve to regress both men and women, and should be eliminated. As much as we have progressed technologically, we’re still entertaining archaic belief systems regarding gender.
Generalized perceptions of what’s socially acceptable make depression one of the most difficult mental illnesses to diagnose in men. It also makes men less inclined to complain about “typical” symptoms. In fact, it’s physical symptoms associated with depression that lead men to seek physician advice.
Mental health experts suspect that men are more inclined to mental illness than statistics infer, due to high levels of reported suicide.
Men’s Health Forum reported that 4 in 5 suicides are by men. Additionally, suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 35.
The Men’s Health Forum also suggests that 73 per cent of adults who go missing are men. In terms of incarcerated males, 72 per cent of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders.
Clearly mental illness is not a singular problem, affecting a singular population. It’s important to understand that mental illness is equated with mental health and those behaviours that affect your pschyological wellbeing. Drugs and substance abuse is part of this equation. Men are more likely to develop a problem with alcohol – they are three times more likely to develop a dependency.
Men are also three times more likely to report frequent drug abuse than women. These statistics shouldn’t shame one group or point to a perceived weakness. Knowledge is the keystone to problem alleviation and recognition of what needs to change.
We’re quick to assume that impinges upon rationality or cognition (typical traits associated with male virtue) are reserved for females, in specific, post-partum depression. Fathers are often neglected in post-natal care or advertisement. A survey that was conducted by the National Childbirth Trust between 2013 and 2014 found that among 296 new fathers surveyed, over a third said they were concerned about their mental health.
To any male who is battling a mental illness, I commend you for your bravery and strength. You don’t need validation of your masculinity, because true strength comes from within and isn’t on display. Mental illness is one heck of a train to ride. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.