Written by Will Miller.
Photo Credit: Tom Pumford / Unsplash.
(The following article reflects the writer’s own personal experiences and opinions.)
When I was 16, I chose to study in Exeter at a college thirty minutes from my home. After weeks of painfully trying to fit in, I started to lower my voice. At first, it was like artificially hitting the accelerator on puberty. A couple of months later, I had completely terrified my balls into dropping.
This went on for months and the distance I created between myself and a more ‘masculine’ version of myself, led me to develop a crippling social anxiety disorder. I remember, if I was too exhausted of conforming to my rehearsed masculine traits, then I’d stay home. I’d take days off college. Complete social isolation.
At university, my anxiety disorder got worse. After multiple panic attacks, I promised myself I’d challenge my mental health problems. This is when I started to understand my issue with masculinity.
Men are virtuous. They are socialised to be stoic and strong in the face of adversity. However, with mental health, there is no external threat. You are fighting yourself and it is always a losing battle.
Women know this. They advocate for you to sit in your emotions, not to fight them. I took a growing interest in the type of friendships my girlfriend developed with her female friends. Their conversations are fluid, varied and devoid of judgement.
Unfortunately, men are creatures of habit. If they are not used to expressing themselves. Chances are, they won’t change that any time soon. No matter how much they are suffering.
This is why the messaging surrounding male mental health is typically preachy and unproductive. Encouraging other men to ‘open up’ will not change the fact that they don’t want to.
I’ve seen men partake in Movember, the same month they’re fighting their friends and crying into a bottle of gin. I’ve seen representatives of men’s mental health associations painfully hurt their nearest and dearest. The common denominator – most men still don’t practice what they preach.
Talking about your mental health is like ripping off a plaster. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. After an hour of cooking like Hellen Keller, you’re playing Tetris with a tea towel, a pan, and 9 fatigued fingers. It can feel like a burden and a lot to handle at first. But if you don’t let your finger breathe, it’ll never heal.
In 2019, a Office for National Statistics (ONS) report stated that three-quarters of registered suicide related deaths were among men. They are also more likely to become dependent on alcohol.
This is not surprising. Men often use other men as a distraction, much like alcohol. A male friend group can be a great medication, but it is not the antidote.
If we, as a gender, want to see suicide rates drastically lowered, then we have to encourage female methodology. We must lose the ego. We must appear vulnerable, knowing it is what we need.
If we can do this first, only then, will our virtue in strength guide us to stay on the straight and narrow.