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I’ve avoided talking about men’s mental health so far, because it’s obviously not where my personal experience lies. But it’s something we need to talk about.
According to Mental Health Foundation, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. However, the suicide rate in men is close to 4 times higher than that of women.
Why is that?
Thanks to “tough guy” stereotypes, many men find it hard to open up. To show “weakness”. So, they’re far less likely to ask for the help and support they need. Except you and I know that it’s not weak to need help. Or to ask for it.
I worry that, as a society, we’re not doing enough to let men know that they don’t need to suffer in silence. Sure, it’s being talked about more and things are moving in the right direction, but the stigma is still there. Add that to the pressure felt by many men to be “strong”, to be the “breadwinner” and to “provide for their family” and it’s no wonder they feel like they can’t speak up.
Mental health problems don’t care about whether you have a Y chromosome or not. We need to stop acting like they do.
As a mother, I fear that my little boy is growing up in a world where it’s somehow OK – expected, even – for his twin sister to cry when she’s sad, but not OK for him to do the same. I cringe when I hear little boys being told that “big boys don’t cry” or “you’re OK” when they’re obviously not. We’re teaching them that they have to bottle everything up. And then, when they grow up into men that bottle everything up, we complain that they don’t talk about their emotions enough. But if they do talk about their emotions…. that’s somehow weak?
Is it any wonder men are confused about whether they’re supposed to open up or not?
I want my little boy to grow up knowing that it’s OK to ask for help. I want him to know that doing so doesn’t make him weak or any less of a man. That men’s mental health is no different to women’s mental health. Men are people, too, after all.
I want him to know that asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s brave to admit that you can’t manage everything on your own. Because it’s bloody scary! Putting yourself out there like that can feel like the hardest thing in the world.
In the meantime, we have to take the step that some men might struggle to take. If they can’t reach out for help, we need to reach out and offer it.
If you’re concerned about any of the men in your life, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Let them know that you’re there to support them. Even if you’re not concerned, we need to talk about it! And if you’re a mother of boys – I beg you – please, don’t let anyone tell them how to feel or how to express how they feel.
We want our boys (and our men) to know they can come to us when they have a problem, to tell us when they need help. Let’s not raise another generation of men who think that suffering with a mental illness makes them weak, or somehow less of a man. It doesn’t.