This past week, on September 10, people worldwide joined together to recognize World Suicide Prevention Day. Openly discussing mental illness can be a tough battle for anyone – but for men, the cultural baggage of traditional masculinity may make it particularly challenging. We, as a society need to love our men and destroy the stigma that is taking our partners, fathers, brothers, sons and friends away from us. My son has struggled with anxiety his whole life, advocating for his needs without “fear”. But it is a complex physical and emotional mixing bowl, which causes inner turmoil with each and every decision he makes. One time, he described it to me as, “another voice in your head, berating you, as you try to make sense of your actions and emotions,”. Thankfully, through the support of both good friends and medicine, he can manage to find a modicum of confidence, when the need arises, to soldier through the worst flare-ups of the mostly invisible diseases.
The remedies and support systems I mention above require emotional openness. However, many men who are victims suffer in silence, completely alone with their dark thoughts, teetering on the edge of self-destruction. On average, one in eight men will have depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. These statistics are startling and, to be honest, I cannot believe them completely. Why? Most men would never admit to having symptoms. So these already troubling numbers are no doubly exponentially larger. And, as anyone who has struggled with anxiety or depression knows, these diseases affect not only the individual who suffer but, like a contagion, infect relationships with loved ones, colleagues, career and financial success, and well, everything and everyone that surrounds the “carrier”.
We need to detach the stigma that is associated with men, who have depression and anxiety, for the betterment of their mental health. Reasons men refuse to acknowledge and seek help include: the assumption that depression is synonymous with weakness; the societal belief that men should be in control of their emotions; the societal conviction that “real men” don’t need help from others.
As much as women suffer from society’s “cages” that trap them in traditional roles and refuse to see their three-dimensionality, the curse is not theirs alone. Men have been taught to show power, to embrace strength and hide weakness, to be protectors and saviours, not individuals who need support and salvation themselves. Quite frankly, for many men, I think it is killing them, emotionally and physically. In many cases, it is a “double murder”. First, the emotional reserves that sustain human beings, leading to self-destructive behaviours.
Men, who suffer from depression or anxiety may engage in hostile and reckless behaviours. The result? Physical violence, impulsive deadly behaviours, and dysfunctional relationships that hurt both the abuser and abused. It is very common, for men in particular, to try to mask or block out the symptoms by using alcohol or other drugs. For numerous women, they can reach out to their trusted family and friends for reassurance and emotional support. But, men often embrace alcohol or other substances as a “substitute support system”, which aids their lack of emotional openness and understanding.
For those who engage in this circular destructive cycle of hostility, isolation, or “self-medication,” the ultimate risk presents itself: suicide. While suicide is a so-called “solution” embraced by both women and men who suffer from anxiety or depression, studies report that “depression may be more deadly for men than for women” and state that “four times as many men compared with women die from suicide.” These tragic findings seem to relay that many men feel so entrapped by the diseases of anxiety and depression and the social stigma that accompanies their admission of these problems, the only way out is death. And that cold hard truth is heart-breaking.
A note for men struggling with anxiety or depression… you are not weak or alone. Depression and anxiety are caused by physiological processes, which cannot be helped. Living in a world that is often stressful, insensitive, or uncaring is an unfortunate circumstance that is unavoidable. But, death is not the answer…
Thomas Aquinas once said, “…three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” So, let me remind you of some important things to remember: You ought to believe that you are deserving of happiness and inner peace.; You ought to desire to find this peace so that you and your partners, daughters, sons, and friends may live in harmony and happiness.; You ought to do what it takes to reclaim your happiness, to make your life and the lives of those whom you love better.
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The bottom line is, we as a society need to address and destroy the deadly stigma that correlates depression and anxiety to weakness, especially where men are concerned. We need to be alert for symptoms in our partners, fathers, sons, brothers and friends and urge them to seek help. We must be supportive and remind them that taking action in the form of therapy, medication, or a combination of both is a sign of strength, not a lack of masculinity. We need to encourage them to vent their feelings, not bottle them up. If we can do this, we can save lives!
Finally, for the all the men suffering from these diseases, I hope it gets easier for you. I hope you find a way out of this. I hope you get that sense of control back. I hope you can find someone who understands what you are going through. Hope is one of those things that disappears with depression and anxiety, so for now I will hope for you until you find that hope again for yourself.