99FM – Your Inspiration Station

Not Talking About Mental Health Is Literally Killing Men

With the idea that ‘boys don’t cry,’ still being a false belief of society today, it can be difficult for men to reach out for help in troubled times. According to Namibian Psychologist, Dr Shaun Whittaker, “We would do a society a big favour if we could look at this quite seriously.” Dr Whittaker adds that, “There is a lot we can do to help men, from a young age, on how to handle their emotions.”

Not Talking About Mental Health Is Literally Killing Men by Luke Kamenye

It can be difficult to admit you are struggling as a man. Logically, you are aware that everyone gets down, has a problem from time to time, or finds difficulty coping with life’s daily woe’s, but it often feels like you are the only person who can’t seem to handle it. You tend to lie awake at night alone, pondering why you can’t be as in control as you should be and you desperately try not to let anyone else see how you are really doing.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to be anxious. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, to feel a wave of uncertainty come crashing over you and not know which way is up, or when your next gulp of air will come. These are perfectly normal feelings that every man experiences.

Even if we understand what depression feels like, we rarely admit that it’s the culprit. Men tend to say they’re tired or just cranky.

We laugh and belittle, and turn a blind eye and freely say, “man up,” as though gender alone should suffice to guide you through your darkest times.

Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them to be tough and not to cry. These messages men receive as children and up through adulthood which discourages them from ever letting anyone know they need help. Men who are vocal about any kind of mental issues can be dismissed as weak, flawed, broken men who are more likely to be mocked at for their honesty, instead of rewarded for their bravery and instead of offering your fellow man compassion, we laugh and belittle, and turn a blind eye and freely say, “man up,” as though gender alone should suffice to guide you through your darkest times. Society tells men that it’s simply not acceptable to have too many feelings and then expect to be emotionally intelligent enough to open up when they need help. We must bring vulnerability, as a core principle of emotional strength for men.

We must bring vulnerability, as a core principle of emotional strength for men.

This macho attitude of stuffing feelings down, or ignoring them, is downright dangerous. Your mental health is inseparable from your physical health, this is not a revolutionary concept, but what is astounding is the stigmatisation that still surrounds men who dare to talk about their mental struggles.

Substance abuse is sometimes referred to as “slow-motion suicide,” given that it can often end in a premature death for the person concerned. Substance use is a predominantly male problem, occurring at a rate of 3 to 1 in comparison to females. Research indicates that many men engage in substance abuse in response to stressful life transitions including unemployment and divorce. Many men report negative experience in family courts, with data suggesting that only about 1 in 6 men have custody of their children, often with minimal visitation rights. This separation and loss can be soul-destroying for the men concerned leaving them isolated and alienated from society.

Many mental health services tend to emphasize medication or talk-therapy. But some research suggests that men prefer action over words in the face of stressful situations. Evidence, suggests that men are significantly less likely to use mental health services in response to a mental health issue in comparison with women. In other words, men who are suicidal or have substance abuse problems are much more likely to suffer in silence, especially minority men.

Sometimes, even if you know you need help, it can be tough to know where to start. Men should know that their internal struggles are just as valid as any other struggle, and these struggles don’t make them less of a man. Though many men don’t know how to ask for help and getting help can take many forms. Sometimes, something as simple as a few hours trawling recovery stories and tips on YouTube can be enough to get you started on the road to recovery.

It’s important to know that you have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about: These conditions are illnesses, not weaknesses. The same goes for any addictions you might have.

Many men have had difficulty communicating what they’re feeling and figuring out how to talk about it. Here are some important first steps:

  • Seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider is used to dealing with these issues. He or she can help you get the treatment you need. In some cases, you may be able to resolve your problems with therapy rather than medicine.
  • Find healthier ways of sharing your feelings. It can be tempting to yell or act out or turn to drugs or alcohol when you are feeling unhappy. But instead of lashing out in anger, breathe deeply, count to 10, and allow yourself some time to calm down.
  • Manage your stress. Stress at work and at home can worsen the symptoms of many mental illnesses. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself to do things you enjoy. You may also want to see if deep breathing, meditation, or stretching help you relax.
  • Research suggests that daily exercise can help relieve the symptoms of depression and that people who exercise regularly in their leisure time are less likely to suffer from this mood disorder.
  • Take care of yourself. Besides exercising regularly, get plenty of sleep and eat nutritious meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. Avoid drugs and alcohol abuse. Being gentle with yourself can put you into a better frame of mind to deal with your mood disorder. Getting treatment and learning some coping mechanisms can help bring these disorders under control.

Together, our voices can fight the stigma that real men don’t talk about their troubles. In doing so, we can usher in a positive conversation to replace the longstanding, detrimental silence.


Article written by Luke Kamenye