Today is international Men’s day.
For the record, March 8th is International Women’s Day. Every year on March 8th men are found asking ‘But when is International Men’s day?!’ In recent years, comedian Richard Herring has served the nation by diligently replying to every tweet asking about an International Men’s Day, informing each individual in the dark that it is November 19th. That’s today. And you might notice that the internet isn’t today full of people asking when International Women’s day is.
That observation aside, I want to talk about some serious things. Many of my friends are tongue-in-cheek about IMD. I understand why – we live in a patriarchal world in which most men are freer to walk the streets at night, safer in their own homes, and able to earn more than most women in equal jobs. Masculinity is privileged. It is associated with strength, capability, and superiority.
Of course, this is disadvantageous for many women, but I also want to talk about how this is damaging for men, and in particular, how it affects the discussion and presentation of mental health issues in men that permeates our society. I have been glad to see that today there have been articles in many (UK) national newspapers discussing mental health in men; I have found fairly valuable articles in the Guardian (several times), the Telegraph, the Independent, on Huffington Post, and by the BBC. There are more. There was also a scheduled debate on this topic by backbenchers at Westminster.
I want to talk about men’s mental health because many of my male friends have mental health issues of one kind or another. I spent a long time during my teens, largely whilst I was doing my A-levels, on the phone for several hours every night to a suicidal friend. He had battled substance abuse and addiction for around a decade, experienced psychosis, rejection from his family and society, years of homelessness, severe depression, and self-harm that left large scars across his body and face, necessitating surgery.
Another friend of mine has recently finished his undergraduate and masters in Psychology, taking twice as long as is usual to complete both, largely due to having to take time out for his mental health. He has experienced substance abuse, body dysmorphia, trichotillomania, and severe and suicidal depression and anxiety.
I have spent a lot of time speaking to a friend in the middle of the night to try to help de-escalate spiralling panic often presenting as debilitating emetophobia, but also general anxiety and depression with suicidal thoughts.
I had a friend stay recently who himself has dealt with gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia, disordered eating, ADHD, depression and anxiety. He has been counselling and caring for his brother who silently found himself with a substance abuse problem and emotional problems that culminated in a suicide attempt.
A former colleague of mine at university was one of the only people I could turn to during a panic, as I knew his personal experience of OCD and depression enabled him to understand my irrational fears. In return I’d sometimes be able to check that all the equipment and taps were off and doors were locked (etc.) for him, as although he could trust me to say it was done, if he did it himself, he could be there an extra two hours checking and rechecking the same items. Every day.
My dad has been depressive, anxious, and obsessive throughout my life (and of course, prior to it). I do not want to go into detail here, as it is an area I will revisit later, but this caused him to have to take several months out of work during his twenties due to a breakdown. It also made it difficult to get another job when he became unemployed when I was a child, under the reign of Thatcher. His depression made him emotionally isolated and impenetrable at times to me, his daughter, for years.
There are so many other stories I could relay about the mental health of male friends, but this will suffice. Mental health problems are difficult to talk about for most people, but society and social pressure makes it harder for men. These are some key facts on suicide in the UK, provided by the Mental Health Foundation:
Moreover, many mental health problems can present slightly differently in men and women, and men and women can differ in their approaches to their mental health. Substance abuse and addiction problems are often seen in higher numbers in men compared to women, but conversely, anxiety diagnoses are higher in women. In reality, it often found that substance problems in men are comorbid with, or arise from, anxiety issues and stress. Alcohol in particular is an anxiolytic (reduces anxiety) and therefore acts (initially) as a socially acceptable mechanism to relieve stress. Unfortunately, this can get out of hand, and whilst a drink down the pub with friends can be a healthy activity for many, and one that can lead to conversations that themselves are good for mental health, sometimes the effects go in the other direction.
This year, why not commit yourselves to talking about mental health with the males in your life? It doesn’t have to be a big conversation, and it doesn’t have to be loaded. Whether or not you think the men in your life may or may not have any mental health problems, the more conversations about mental health are normalised, the more we can reduce stigma. Everybody needs love, support, and an ear sometimes.