Mental health conversations have become more mainstream, but now it’s time we move into the next phase: action.
Taking action for mental health comes in so many shapes and forms. June was Men’s Mental Health Month and it left me reflecting on this topic.
The truth is, we all have mental health. If you’ve got a brain, you’ve got mental health—and we all struggle sometimes. When it comes to mental health, there are so many nuanced conversations to be had.
I’ve worked in the mental health space for over six years now and one of the biggest things I noticed was that every space I walked into was female-dominated. In every conversation I had about mental health, no matter where I was, 99% of the participants were women. I love to see these conversations being had, but it always had me wondering why men weren’t as involved in these spaces.
It’s no surprise that men face a significant amount of stigma when it comes to their mental health. There are so many stereotypes and societal norms that act as barriers for them to even consider their mental health.
Many grow up being instilled with a “man up” mentality, that teaches them to suppress their feelings and minimize their struggles. Men have comfort replaced with tough love earlier on in life. The only expressions of self that seem okay are happiness or anger.
Especially in South Asian cultures. There’s this unspoken rule of man. If a woman is emotional, it’s normal, but if a man expresses himself, it’s seen as weakness. Men are supposed to be tough. They’re supposed to not care. They’re supposed to power through whatever comes their way.
However, we know that’s not the reality they live in.
“I struggled with my mental health for a long time. I didn’t know I was struggling. I just knew that I was constantly looking for an escape,” said X, a young South Asian male whose name has been anonymized to protect his identity.
“I’d find myself being angry a lot and isolating myself, especially from my family. As the youngest in a house of mostly girls, I didn’t think anyone cared to hear what was going on with me or would even understand.”
1 in 10 men experience a significant mental health struggle in their lifetime and men die from suicide at a rate 4 times higher than that of women. They’re twice as likely to struggle with substance use-related issues and yet significantly less likely to seek help.
Add on any sort of “otherness” and all of those stats go up. Indigenous men die from suicide at a rate double the Canadian average. Men who identify as a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community are at a significantly higher risk of suicidality and self-harm, and often start to experience mental health struggles at an even younger age.
Racialized men have additional barriers to seeking help and often have cultural norms that further promote toxic masculinity.
“When I was a young adult, it was completely okay to be drinking or doing drugs. I grew up watching so many guys around me do it that it was normal. I see now that a lot of them were using it as a coping mechanism. I think especially in a lot of brown cultures, drinking is really normalized for men,” he added. “If you’re a girl and drinking, that’s bad, but if you’re a guy, it’s fine. That kind of mentality can really promote unhealthy coping mechanisms and could be a reason why so many men struggle with substance abuse disorders.”
Even the way men struggle is different. Men often experience symptoms of mental illness or mental health struggles differently than women, , which can lead to some being dismissed or misdiagnosed. This can also be extremely defeating . It’s hard enough to ask for help, but when you receive pushback, it can be very disheartening.
“Even once I did realize that I was struggling, I didn’t really know what to do about it. I was honestly so scared. There was a lot of self-stigma there for me,” X added.
“As a man you feel like you’re supposed to be the caretaker and provider. I think that mentality sets in from a pretty young age. I think the culture sets it up so asking for help makes you feel as if you’re less of a man, but that’s definitely not the case. It takes a lot of strength to ask.”
Being in touch with your emotions and seeking help has nothing to do with gender. It’s about being human. We all deserve a safe space to explore our feelings, be ourselves and heal.
“I went to therapy. I’m not afraid to say it. Actually, the more I talked about it, the more I noticed the other men in my life started to open up to me about their struggles too,” he said.
“Quite honestly, nearly every guy I know has struggled, quite significantly, with their mental health.”
I know it can be hard to share, but there are people out there who care. I care. There are people here for you, without judgement, to listen and support in whatever way YOU need it.
“I think as men, we all need to talk about our emotions and feelings more. When we talk about it, it lets other people know that they can talk about it too, and that goes a long way,” X added.
“You’re not in it alone. We’ve all needed support. The best friendships and relationships are the ones where you can be open about the good times and the bad.”
We have to actively work at creating safe spaces for men to explore their mental health. It starts with checking in and seeing how they’re doing. Make it a habit to ask the tougher questions and really mean what you say when you ask ‘how are you?’.
Let them know their feelings matter and that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Challenge the harmful stereotypes and the toxic masculinity when you see it. Hold the people around you accountable. If you notice something, ask about it and show genuine care and concern. It all starts with the little things.
To all the men out there - It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay no matter what anyone may say. We are here for you.
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