Beyond #MeToo by Tanushree Ghosh brings together accounts and analyses from around the world, exploring the movement against the broader backdrop of feminism and gender. An Excerpt on Men And Mental Health: Beyond MeToo
According to the National Institute of Health, USA, the prevalence of mental health issues is lower in men than in women. But men are less likely to have received treatment for mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report (2018) showed men more likely to die of suicide than women, and suicides increasing for both men and women. Most of the matter around mental health for men lies with the stigma which is worse for men than for women. Men having mental health issues, and needing to seek help, is seen as a lack of strength, while for women, excuses can be made blaming hormones (moods). This prevents men from seeking help. It is interesting to note that awareness around posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma in general is owed to men—the soldiers in the Vietnam War in particular—and is still largely viewed as a war veteran condition. PTSD was referred to for long as ‘shell shock’, stressing it’s connection to war. Global studies note men to be predispositioned to have a higher occurrence of certain mental health disorders like ASPD, while women are predispositioned to disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. The reasonings for the same, however, remain unclear and are left at being the interaction of complex genetic and environmental factors.
Searching for mental health statistics for men specifically out of India expectedly leads to mostly dead ends. One fairly comprehensive report published in The Lancet Psychiatry appraising the same period as in the US study found anxiety and depressive disorders to have a higher prevalence in women in India, and mental disorders increasing in adults steeply between 1990 and 2017. Another Lancet study found men to women ratio for suicide death rate in India to be 1:34. One report that cites and analyses this study notes women to be suicidal in higher numbers, owing to biological susceptibility to certain conditions and high prevalence of post-marriage emotional and physical abuse (domestic violence, dowry abuse and emotional abuse by in-laws). Despite expert testimonials, it is very hard to ascertain if such assertions are facts because of two reasons. One, high integrity quantitative data is rarely accompanying or available (e.g., experts quoted in the report mention studies that show that women have more suicidal thoughts and attempts but the actual studies are not cited). Second, bias can be high, even among regarded medical professionals (e.g., in an The Indian Express article I was interviewed for, a credited expert provided the opinion that post-partum depression has to do with women not wanting to be mothers when research repeatedly discredits such assumptions).
Reasons aside, the reports quoted here do suggest that suicide and affectation rates are higher in women in India. In my opinion, although it might seem prima facia that this can be attributed to either life being harder for women in India or to women being biologically predispositioned, or both, there isn’t enough data that I could chance upon at the time of this writing to conclude on the root cause. For example, life could be harder for men in India than women for completely different reasons (while women are discriminated against, abused and side-lined, men have no choice but to be breadwinners in a developing economy, bear family responsibilities in a low-infrastructure nation and live with higher pressure of expectation). What is more important to note is the fact that both male and female suicide death rates in India were found to be significantly higher than the global average.
Now the tough question: If women are more affected by mental health disorders and suicide remains significantly higher in Indian women than in both Indian men and global women, why the plethora of articles suddenly on men’s mental health and mental health awareness? Well, women committing suicide is an easier to-accept concept in India. Historical and cultural references are aplenty—from Jauhar and mass suicides post partition to women killing themselves in scores in movies on being violated or tormented. Women—submissive, softer, weaker, having a more difficult life in India—are expected to kill themselves. Men are not (unless they are students appearing for high-pressure exams). Second, awareness of mental disorders in men (and, therefore, acceptability) has indeed been zero to minimal in India.
Let’s take Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide for example. On 14 June 2020, Sushant Singh Rajput was reportedly found hanging in his Bandra, Mumbai, home. His death came as a shock to the nation, as most celebrity deaths do. However, the reaction to Rajput’s death was unprecedented. Coming in close succession to other celebrity deaths (including the likes of Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, both of which saw expected bout of sadness from the nation for a limited amount of time, Rajput’s death started dominating the nation’s headlines and, as of the end of September 2020, continued to be an unbelievable saga of media manipulation, social media domination and public rage (first against Bollywood heavyweights for allegedly having driven Sushant to suicide through bullying and exclusion— Sushant being an outsider allegedly had had to fight harder for opportunities competing against celebrity and insider youngsters— and then against his girlfriend for pushing him towards suicide). Although reports surfaced of him being depressed and bipolar, including chats with his sister that ascertained their know-how of him being on medication, #JusticeforSSR trended higher than any other matter of pertinence (from the COVID pandemic and shrinking GDP to Indo-China conflict), and conspiracy theories obscured the airwaves.
India, for the most part, refused to believe that Rajput could have taken his own life without provocation. He either was murdered (as per one group of speculators) or was pushed and manipulated to kill himself (through drugs and emotional abuse by his girlfriend). It is worth noting that Rajput did have a story that is expected to resonate strongly with the common man India. A brilliant student and a philanthropic individual who was able to break into Bollywood and raise to the heights of stardom is someone for whom a great amount of sympathy should exist. However, his death by suicide continues to be challenged by India as an incident that is impossible not just because of who he was or his popularity.
An excerpt from Beyond #MeToo: Ushering Women’s Era or Just Noise? by Tanushree Ghosh. Published by SAGE Publications India. 2021, 312 pages, Paperback, Rs. 550 (ISBN: 9789354793813), SAGE Select.