Thought leadership

The Descent of Man

It is often very difficult to speak openly as a man.

There is fear of judgement, recrimination and of feeling inconsequential against broader sociological themes. However, it is critical to highlight some of growing issues we are seeing with men’s mental health.

In the U.K. the highest suicide rate reported last year was among 45-49 year old men. Men are 3 times more likely to take their lives and suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 50. In my view we have a number of issues driving these unsettling statistics:

  • Societal expectation and perceived traditional gender roles: The narratives we have experienced and been taught – that men should appear powerful, on top, in control, burdened with fiscal responsibility. Men are exposed to success or failure and these extremes expose men to perceived high and lows which attach to their self worth.
  • The weight of pressure on men to succeed and the self imposed pressure to be the best father, son, husband, boss. The feeling that men are always failing can trigger a spiral into anxiety and depression which they cannot work their way out of. Men often feel like they are ‘fixers’ and this applies to their own emotional issues.
  • The learned behaviour that men should never show weakness, fallibility or any kind of vulnerability. Often believing that courage is about leaping into a fire to save someone and that emotion, or communicating about emotion is weak.
  • The result of which is that men are poor emotional communicators and see reaching out for help as a weakness. Not only that but they don’t know how or who to ask for help. Perhaps if they have asked, they have been burned by this experience which can lead to overwhelming shame and guilt.

Men are great actors perhaps because many suffer with imposter syndrome, they can play the role of the perceived gender expectation so convincingly you would never know that something is dramatically wrong. This can create a crisis of identity as the way you perceive yourself is completely mis-aligned from the way others perceive you.

There’s no surprise then that when men hit mid-life, and circumstantial change requires them to challenge some of those identities, men can feel lost and out of control without the tools to deal with such a crisis. If for example your identity is tied up with your work, with being a bread winner or with being a father, who are you once your work situation changes, money becomes tight or your kids move out of the family home?

We have to try and create more opportunities and freedoms for men to be able to express themselves emotionally. We have to try and identify if men are trying to deal with overwhelming and weighty issues on their own. And we have to show kindness to all human beings no matter their class, race or gender.

I have had my fair share of issues over the years. Believe me, it takes courage to speak out without fear of judgement and shame. But it’s important we overcome this stigma and demonstrate that with the proper tools, men can overcome these issues and uncover a powerful self awareness. This will allow individuals to thrive rather than acting out externally or internally.

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