Mental health and men: On November 19, the world will celebrate International Men’s Day and while we may have our own special ways to celebrate the men in our lives we also need to use this occasion to address some important and urgent issues, one of them being men’s mental health.
The mental health battle for women and men is divided on lines of gender, like most other things in our life. We have different triggers and ways to “handle” the issue. While it is difficult for everyone to speak up about mental health issues, due to social stigma, for men the task is even more difficult because being mentally unwell is seen as a sign of weakness, which goes against the grain of masculinity.
A man is only approved by society when he conforms to all the norms set by it. He must look a certain way, behave a certain way and even make life choices that reaffirm his masculinity. Aren’t men who chose to live with their in-laws, or elect to be stay-at-home dads, or marry women who earn more than them, looked down upon? Despite ad campaigns that normalise crying, how many men can dare to shed a tear in front of their loved ones, colleagues or friends without the fear of being judged? Can an Indian man dare to walk to his parents or wife and tell them that he is thinking of quitting his job due to depression or anxiety, and not be criticised or told to “man up” and power through.
Men are a patriarchal society’s favourite gender, but this favour comes at an immense cost – you will only be put on a pedestal, your actions will only be defended, if you live your life by its rulebook on what is masculine.
According to a report from February this year, over 70 percent of callers to India’s first national mental health helpline, KIRAN, since the day it was launched, have been men. Perhaps it is the anonymity that encouraged many men to come forth and seek help over calls as it was much easier than walking into a therapist’s office.
This toxic idea of masculinity also prevents many men from taking their mental health seriously. According to them depression or anxiety is something that can’t happen to them as their gender makes them impervious to such issues. “Ye depression wagerah kuch nahi hota, sab natak hai,” I have heard a disturbing number of men make such comments about mental health issues. How can you then convince someone to seek help for a problem whose existence they deny of?
This Men’s Day, let us pledge to start a conversation about mental health with the men in our life. It is not about coercing them to seek help, but simply letting them know know that this can happen to everyone and that anyone in such a situation shouldn’t have to deal with the added baggage of stigma or shame.
Views expressed are the author’s own.