After learning about Men’s Health Week for the first time last year and sharing an experience on mental health from one of the best men I know (thank you again, Stephen!), I decided to use the space this year to reflect on men and mental health. There are many aspects of men’s health that should be talked about more, and mental health is no exception. But how do we have that conversation, and how do we turn that conversation into action?
One of the reasons I’ve been reflecting on these questions is because I’m more aware of the challenges when it comes to men talking about mental health. Hindsight into my own journey has shown me that I faced some of those same challenges many men face. Like many other men, I couldn’t name those challenges for what they were.
I couldn’t name the stigma around men and depression, but it was there. While some of the stereotypes of what it means to be a man can be helpful in many ways – such as being strong, focused, confident, etc. – these are also roadblocks when it comes to being vulnerable and honest about how we’re feeling.
Pretty much every man I’ve ever talked to about mental health has shared a specific note in their journey – that they should’ve talked to someone sooner. There are many reasons for why that is (shame, stigma, toxic masculinity), but the result is the same. Statistics show that men are more reluctant to seek treatment than other demographic groups. Combined with statistics that also show that men suicide 3.5 times often then women, there is a clear pattern among men. We refuse help, refuse to talk, and the consequences are often much worse because of this.
So what can we do? Fortunately, there is plenty we can do when it comes to shrinking the stigma on men’s mental health. No matter where you are on your mental health journey, there are two main ways to start creating real conversations about mental health.
The first way to start creating these conversations is to open up about your own mental health. This could be especially impactful for men among their circles of friends, where feelings (of any nature) are rarely discussed and difficult to bring up. In the years since I’ve shared my story, I’ve had conversations about mental health with pretty much every male friend of mine – and even some men I don’t know all that well!
Don’t discount the power of talking about your mental health. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it doesn’t need to sound good, and you don’t need to share every part. But starting with your own vulnerability will let other men know it’s okay to share their own feelings – if and when they are ready.
The second way to start creating these conversations is to tell men that it’s okay not to be okay. Men need to let other men know that they have spaces where they can be vulnerable. Not everyone feels like there are spaces where they can talk about their mental health, and we don’t need to wait for something to happen before talking about it. Being honest and open about mental health is one of the ways we can redefine traditional (and toxic, unhealthy) masculinity, and the men who can do that need to start ASAP.
Everyone should have the opportunities to talk about their thoughts and emotions, especially when it comes to mental health. The more brave men share their stories, and let others know it’s okay to share theirs, the more we can have open and honest conversations about the fact that it’s okay that we’re not okay. And then we can get to work on dealing with that.