Mental Illness Among Men: “No one speaks about what men suffer”, gasped my father when I recited Nirmala Putul’s, a Santhali writer, poem on women and womanhood. His words affected me because I am very well aware of the oppression and sufferings that men undergo in the reign of patriarchy.
If I talk about my father, he has been diagnosed with insomnia and alcohol abuse. The reason behind it is the immense pressure of carrying the burden of financial responsibilities at home which keeps on increasing with time. “No one knows about the mental strain that I go through”, he says each time someone appreciates him for his calming smile. But I have noticed the pretence that plays behind his smile and jolly mood. I understand the pressure that he is going through. But just because he is a man, he is not allowed to speak up about it. Just because he is a man, he is not allowed to be vulnerable, emotional and weak. But is that right?
Before going further, let us acknowledge yet again that patriarchy oppresses both men and women. It is not true that feminism is only about the femme or the woman in it. It is a social movement that demands equality in every section of society. So when it comes to mental health, men’s experiences matter as much as a woman’s. But unfortunately, patriarchal society has labelled men as robust. They are upheld as the master of money matters, with shoulders strong enough to carry every responsibility and hands rough enough to fight through every struggle. Crying, being emotional or vulnerable is labelled as a feminine trait and a blotch in a man’s masculinity.
Rather than being a motivation, these beliefs act as nails in the coffin for men who suffer from various traumas. Depression and suicide are the leading causes of death among men and yet very few of them seek professional help compared to women. According to National Center For Health Statistics, in a poll of 21000 American men, 1 in 10 of them suffered from Depression and Anxiety. Men die by suicide 3.5 times more than men. When we look in India, around 250 men died by suicide every day in 2018, which is double the number of women. Nearly 70 per cent of the calls received on the Centre’s mental health rehabilitation helpline were from men and boys. In ETimes Lifestyle poll, 39 per cent of people felt that men don’t feel comfortable in talking about mental health issues and 40 per cent believed that the discomfort is because speaking up about mental health makes them appear weak and vulnerable.
My father was suffering from mental health issues for a long time. But he never told his family about it or even sought any professional help. Then, one day when I suddenly woke up in the night, I was devastated to see my father awake at 3 in the morning and drinking alcohol. He hadn’t slept at all because of the tension about his business. And this was just another night for him, filled with the constant fight between mind and body. I got off of my bed and led my father to the bed. I smoothly ran my hands through his head until he calmed down and slept. While doing this, my tears couldn’t stop. “I cannot see my father like this,” I muttered.
And next day, I booked an appointment for my father with a psychiatrist. Initially, he was reluctant to seek any medical help. He posed a wide smile in front of the doctor and denied any sort of discomfort. But I insisted that he should speak about his sleeping problems and then he did. However, he stopped taking his medicines assuming that being a man he cannot fall “weak”. But when the condition worsened, he himself shared his feelings, his suicidal ideations, depressive thoughts and asked me to get proper medication.
It was a big step at my father’s hand to stand up and speak about his mental health issues. But not many men are able to do that.
Speaking to SheThePeople, Psychologist and Therapist Dr Loveleen Kaur says that the reason for the silence around men’s mental health issues is “For them, it is against the roles decided for them by the society. You are a man, you need to be strong. How can you cry? They are surrounded by harmful stereotypes of toxic masculinity. They are made to think that since they are the stronger sex, they cannot express their mental health issues and be weak”. However, she also focuses on the stigma that emotional weakness is often translated as physical weakness which is not right.
Adding further, she says, “Men and women have different ways of expressing their mental health issues. For example, if women are depressed they will feel hopelessness and guilt. But what men express their illness by acting it out through anger spells, alcohol abuse and more. But these traits are not seen as abnormal among men but as an expression of their masculinity.”
Speaking about why men die by suicide more than women, Dr Kaur says that in the case of men, the suicide is complete while in the case of women it is attempted. In other words, men use harsh ways like shooting themselves or jumping off the terrace to complete their suicide while women mostly overdose or harm themselves in order to attempt suicide and not complete it.
So according to my own experience, there is a need for families and society to support men dealing with mental health issues and traumas. It is imperative to stop making men responsible for the financial burden and the safety of the entire family. We need to show concern for the safety of the men themselves. It is not a hidden fact that men too suffer from sexual harassment cases. Many of them are bullied for their “feminine” behaviour or choices. So concludingly, even if men are privileged in certain ways, they are also equally suppressed as women in the patriarchal society. It is high time for us to take men’s mental health issues seriously and provide them with the required support. Let’s change the definition of “man-up” by making it inclusive of emotional and vulnerable behaviour.The best solution to this disparity is to achieve gender equality in every sector of society. If burden and emotions are shared, the pressure will reduce.
Views expressed are the author’s own.