With Movember now well underway and the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to blight our day-to-day lives, men’s mental health is being engaged with perhaps more than it has ever been before.
This October, I uploaded a video to Facebook in which I opened up about my history with anxiety and outlined a personal challenge that I have set myself for Movember. In the wake of this, I received an overwhelming number of positive messages. It was wonderful to know that so many people care about men’s mental health. However, the sheer number of messages that I received proved to me that men talking about their emotions so openly continues to be far from the norm.
Despite experiencing anxiety since my childhood, I did not seek help until I was almost nineteen. Additionally, I only did so in a desperate attempt to get better so I would be stable enough to come to Durham after a debilitating anxiety flare-up in the summer after my A-Levels. Over the following two years, I invested significantly more time in my wellbeing and became increasingly open with my emotions. In the process of doing so, I realised that mental health was something I had a passion for and I ended up giving several public talks on the matter. Whereas in August 2017 I was reluctant to open up to my own GP, in July 2019 I spoke candidly of my own experiences to approximately 200 people at a mental health conference, speaking alongside high-profile UK activists.
The point is, I have not always been this open. In fact, I used to be very emotionally closed-off and somewhat robotic. I was born and raised in Jersey, where the worryingly recent introduction of certain anti-discrimination laws offers an indication of the conservative societal attitudes. To add to this, I was in all-male education from Year 3 to Year 13, so my school life was heavily influenced by the masculine ideals of strength, achievement and virility. We are all the product of our influences and therefore I left school intoxicated by these values. I convinced myself I was invincible while denying even to myself how unwell I was. Consequently, I had to normalise talking about my mental health. The more I spoke about it, the less discomfort I experienced in doing so.
Coming through the other side of this process has enabled me to see the situation clearer than ever before: we have a long way to go when it comes to men expressing their emotions. Toxic masculinity, which in this instance I am taking to mean the destructive expectation that men and boys should maintain an unwavering air of strength and invulnerability, continues to persist today. According to the Office for National Statistics, men accounted for approximately three-quarters of suicide deaths in England and Wales. Of course, every suicide is a tragic loss of life regardless of gender, but we cannot simply gloss over the blindingly obvious fact that a disproportionately high number of men take their own lives. Furthermore, the rate of male suicides is 16.9 for every 100,000 people, the highest it has been since 2000.
It is clear that men do experience emotions. You may think that I am stating the obvious, however if I am then how come that we continue to buy into traditional gender expectations? The figures are alerting us with a warning that the situation is not getting better and I dread to think what the statistics for 2020 will be given how the Covid-19 pandemic has raged through our lives like an uncontrollable inferno.
The statistics expose a harsh truth, yet one that we must confront urgently: toxic masculinity continues to rule traditional gender expectations with an iron fist. We need to normalise men talking about their feelings. I implore other men who feel comfortable enough doing so to share their stories as I have done. Archaic gender expectations continue to be deep-rooted and unless we attack them at their core, the problem will never be eradicated. With 60 men dying by suicide every hour across the world, it is quite literally a matter of life or death.
Image: Finn via Unsplash.