An unattended enigma

Men’s Health Awareness Month is celebrated throughout November to educate and promote global awareness of men’s physical and mental health

An unattended enigma

Make way for "Movember". "Movember" is a portmanteau for Moustache (Mo) and November. In this month, many men worldwide don't shave (No shave November) and begin to grow their moustaches. This movement aims to help change ideas around men's physical health, mental health, emotional needs and lifestyle concerns.

One may argue that "mental health is mental health." How would gender play any role? Well, it does. Even the age-old stereotypes like women are the fairer sex and men the stronger ones show the discrimination straight up. Most people would agree that it's hard to get men to be forthcoming with their health issues. The stigma is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome.

Even though neurobiologically, mental health disorders are the same irrespective of gender, race, and socio-economic status, yet, the presentation may differ in men gravely from the way it does in others. Certain issues are more pertinent to men's psychology due to societal conditioning and years of generational trauma. These can be:

Income: In a society where men are the main, or sometimes even the sole breadwinners, a man's mental health may greatly rely on income and socio-economic output. The societal construct also instils the idea that a man cannot do jobs that are low paying or lesser paying than their counterparts.

Sexual performance: "He is a tiger in bed!" A man's own assessment of his self-worth may rely on how his sexual performance is. More men find it comfortable to seek help for sexual issues rather than underlying mental health issues.

Difficulty asking for help: According to major studies, when it comes to mental health resources being used, they are often used more by females. Interestingly, men would accompany women for their mental health check-ups but refrain from seeking help themselves. Again, the idea that how can a well-functioning male in the family have any mental health issues is founded in the belief that mental health is black and white.

Head of the family: Patriarchal pressure from society to be a family's strong, stoic leader amounts to being strict, non-emotive and almost dictatorial in approach.

While mental health diagnoses have classical guideline feature criteria, the presentation of major mental health disorders can differ for men compared with women. Most common mental health issues faced by men are:

Depression: Depression is quite common among males. According to some studies, one in eight men may experience it at some stage of their life. The expression of depression may vary. For example, 'smiling depression' is a non-clinical term used to describe someone living with depression on the inside while appearing to be perfectly put together and happy on the outside

Substance abuse: Often used as a coping strategy to combat stress, the prevalence of illicit substance use and dependence in men is significantly higher than in women.

Anger outbursts: Many men choose anger as an expression of their emotional turmoil. The anger could be verbal or non-verbal. Even though anger is a mere emotion and everyone experiences it, men may express it more outwardly.

Domestic abuse towards men: It is often under-reported due to the sheer idea of society believing that men can overpower women and automatically be the perpetrators and never the victim. According to some studies, in the United States of America, one out of every nine males may be subjected to domestic abuse by their intimate partner or their spouses. One in every seven males has been the victim of physical abuse by their spouses or intimate partners. This could be in heterosexual or same-sex partner relationships. In the Indian legislature, there is no paragraph or clause in the legislation that makes a woman responsible for domestic abuse.

Domestic violence: Increasing rates of domestic violence were reported by women towards their partners during the lockdown in our country. Often an expression of frustration, overpowering the female partner becomes an outlet for the emotion.

Crime: The statistics have been consistent in reporting that men commit more criminal acts than women. The underlying causes are hormones, genetic makeup, personality disorders like antisocial personality disorders and environmental factors.

Suicide: More completed suicides are reported amongst men while more attempted suicides are reported among women. Men use more lethal modes.

PTSD: War veterans often report feeling lonely, disconnected, isolated, hypervigilant, having nightmares and having difficulty coming back to their old selves.

Postnatal paternal depression: Men go through myriad emotions too after the birth of the newborn. The symptoms can be majorly depressive or anxious in nature and stem from the new adjustment changes.

Eating disorders: Around one in three people experiencing eating disorders may be male. Again these numbers are often skewed due to a lack of awareness and acknowledgement.

Gambling: Often considered a shortcut to make money or a time pass, but can be a real diagnosable behavioural addiction. It is more common amongst men.

Sexual abuse: Male sexual abuse survivors often under report their issues. A boy is considered to be "safe" to be on his own while a girl may not be. But unfortunately, this can make them easy prey to paedophiles and sexual abuse.

What is the toxic masculinity culture?

Toxic masculinity stands for the way our society adheres to the traditional male gender roles and stereotypes, and insists men to not display their emotions.

Common toxic masculine myths

⁕ Talking about your emotional problems is a girly thing

⁕ Boys don't cry!

⁕ Man up! And don't feel any emotions

⁕ Take it like a man and don't complain

Famous men lost to suicide: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anthony Bourdain, Avicii, Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain

A generation of famous male icons raising awareness about mental health

Virat Kohli: Recently after his win, the cricketer let his emotions show and the fans were welcoming to the fact that strong emotions need to be displayed. He has also been vocal about his own journey with mental health.

Roger Federer: He unabashedly teared up to show his grief over stepping away from his favourite sport.

Johnny Depp: An icon to show that men, that too a famous man can undergo domestic abuse (emotional and physical) at the hands of their partner.

Prince Harry voiced his battle with mental health after his mother's demise.

New beginnings and the silver lining

⁕ Men's health in the workplace is being addressed

⁕ Charity events like Movember are celebrated around the world.

⁕ Luke Adams free-dived underneath an iceberg in Greenland's water to raise awareness for men's mental health.

⁕ Asking for help is being normalised via social media

⁕ You: Awareness starts with you at home. Acknowledge the emotions of the men in your family. Create a safe non-judgmental space for them. Raise your boys to not play by gender stereotypes

It starts with having conversations around mental health.

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