Where to even begin? The privilege that comes with being a man in this world is sickening. As a woman, I look at the men around me and roll my eyes when they complain about whatever struggle they might have. I have slightly more empathy for the men of colour, and queer men, but put a straight white man in front of me and I am appalled when he thinks he has the right to complain about anything. “You men have it easy – but you have it the easiest, Brian!
This topic feels like I’m betraying everyone who’s not a man by acknowledging it. Turns out, that’s the problem. Empathising with the ‘enemy’ isn’t something we do here in ‘woke world’. Even ‘woke’ men must go around repeating the mantra ‘men are trash’ to be spared from metaphorical crucifixion in our circle of love and light. Ironic, I know.
The problem is that the more I speak with men, the more I realise that the old saying ‘no man is an island’ doesn’t apply anymore. These men are losing sight of land. The stigma around men and the acknowledgment of mental health issues is so isolating that men continue to be four times more likely to commit suicide than women in South Africa. The growing popularity of mental wellness, self-awareness, inner healing and all the other concepts we learn about to better ourselves does little to free men of the stereotype that they are not real men if they admit to any kind of mental suffering.
It is a challenge, and while I will never understand how it feels to be in this position, I can comprehend that it’s something we need to work to change. There are things we can do to remove the shame around men and mental health. Something I’ve found simple and effective is starting a dialogue and displaying your own vulnerability, allowing them to reciprocate without judgment. People naturally feel safer sharing in conversations where they can go, ‘Oh that happened to me too’. The other day I had a conversation with my father, casually explaining to him what anxiety feels like to me in a physical sense. I get tight-chested, my throat feels tense, my mind races and I feel like I’m in trouble even though I’ve done nothing wrong. Interestingly, my dad has felt the same in many different scenarios; he just didn’t know it was called anxiety.
If this feels like a difficult conversation to start up – try doing it while performing a task. Chat while fixing something, or cooking, or at the driving range. A conversation about mental health doesn’t need to feel like an intervention. Sometimes it’s more than enough to just casually let men know we’re here to listen if they ever felt like talking about how they feel during a Sunday drive.
There are things that men can do to improve their mental health, and there are things that we can do as people to make it safe for men to get help.
Click the links below for some gentle guidelines on receiving help: