My vision of todays’ world has always been more drastically progressive than the version I get while doing my weekly reality checks. Take a story plot like the one described in Star Trek and multiply it by ten. Within such framework, humans would participate more actively in developing deep self-awareness, authenticity, and forward thinking. Labels, diagnostics or categories that are now dividing us would melt away, creating room for an unprecedented ability to connect.
I have had to stretch, dissolve and reshape my mindset to radically accept that many aspects of our life as we know in this very moment have remained frozen in old, outdated molds.
One broad topic that needs a reset button is how we understand and create conditions for men to prioritize their health. In the past couple of years, we have seen some promising efforts that promote men’s mental health: podcasts, TED Talks, and entire websites normalizing a life in progress where men don’t have everything figured out, so healing from trauma it’s being called out in the open, allowed and even encouraged. At the same time, when it comes to health, most men still think of their physical health only. What we all fail to keep fresh in mind is that we are more at risk of developing a mental health condition like depression or anxiety than a medical issue. This is even more significant for men. Some of the statistics data we currently have regarding men’s health, include the following alarming points:
Men are 28 times more likely to have a mental health issue like depression in any given year than prostate cancer – even though it is the most common cancer in American men.
Researchers estimate that at least six million men experience depression every year in the United States. Although men suffer from depression at half the rate of women, men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Currently, suicide is the seventh leading category for cause of death among men according to Center for disease Control (CDC) statistics. In addition, there is a catastrophic intersection of low rates of diagnosed depression and high rates of suicide and substance abuse among the U.S. male population.
Men in lower income groups are at greater risk for suicide than men in higher income groups. Veterans in the middle years (a population that is largely male) have a higher suicide rate than their peers who have not served in the military. Gay, bisexual and transgender men in the middle years may be more at risk for suicide than other men of their age.
Sadly, it has become clear that issues of men’s mental health continue to be silenced or minimized in our today’s society.
All humans are emotional creatures yet almost anywhere in this world rarely is it seen as socially acceptable for men to focus on emotions or engage in healing work. In fact, using the emotions wheel as a barometer, we can see how men are still expected to only feel a few or certain emotions, perhaps the ones that are perceived as more masculine. For example, it’s acceptable and even quite desirable for a man to feel happy, brave, angry, content and proud. In contrast, feeling sadness, disgust, embarrassment and shame are emotions that are fully perceived as specific to females.
Emotions are central to forming and sustaining close relationships. Evidence indicates that boys experience maladaptive learning around emotion from an early age. It usually starts with what seems to be a small, less impactful event or, as trauma experts define it, little “t” trauma: dropping the ball in the outfield and getting screamed at by your coach, a person with whom you have an attachment with. This is one instance when a young boy may experience shame; in the absence of a validating person or context, shame becomes internalized, creating grounds for shutting down and repressing emotions. A boy facing such event will likely grow into an adult who has found it’s safer to leave more in his head, and not give much recognition or traction to messy emotions. This has profound effects on many men’s inability to establish and maintain intimacy in relationships. Research also indicates that struggles with becoming aware of emotions and intimacy in close relationships are key factors that contribute towards the high rates of suicide in men.
I believe we all ought to remind ourselves of assumptions and myths that may interfere with our availability to extend support. Circling back to Star Trek’s fictional character Data, who is a fully functional robot - he is quite intrigued by the moment when he installs an emotion chip, allowing him the ability to experience emotions. Feeling our feelings is a privilege of human life, and men are no exceptions to it. Asking for mental health help is not a sign of weakness, not even for men, but a sign of strength and willingness to improve.
Men & Depression Resources
National Institute for Mental Health shares personal stories about depression from real men.
Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation’s educational site takes on a tough topic with some tongue-and-cheek humor that men under 55 may appreciate.
How to talk to and offer support to a man with depression.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
How to talk to someone about suicide.