Building Men’s Mental Health – pushing back against social influence
Achieving and sustaining good mental health and wellbeing should be a focus for everyone, but there are particular issues men face that are worthy of attention. For instance, approximately 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in their lifetime . Considering that MDD is given as a diagnosis of severe depression, many more than this will likely suffer from lesser bouts of depression, which can still be significant and impairing. Relatedly, we know that men are more than three times more likely to die by suicide than women  and that men are twice as likely to become dependent on illegal drugs .
The causes of mental health and wellbeing issues in men are complex and multitudinous, but one encompassing perspective involves a social focus and the impact of societal and cultural influences. For example, when you think of the word ‘masculine’, what words come to mind? What traits or characteristics would you associate with someone who is more ‘masculine’? Take a moment to write down 5 – ideally as quickly as you can (don’t second guess yourself).
Hopefully, you’ve included some positive and prosocial words, but most people will continue to associate masculinity with attributes like strength, boldness, and independence, among others. The extreme of this enters the realm of ‘toxic masculinity’, which can involve characteristics like dominance and control, but we don’t need to go all the way to the extreme to encounter problems, because, in contrast, someone who isn’t very masculine could easily be thought of as weak or dependent. So just as there are still pervasive stereotypes and influences surrounding beauty that push women to look a certain way, many men feel compelled to avoid looking ‘weak’ or show that they are coping well regardless of whatever may be going on in their life, and doing so all by themselves.
However, if we’re pushed to be seen to be managing just fine despite life’s stresses and be doing so alone, this can take a toll on our mental health and wellbeing. We know that everyone suffers at some point in their life, some more regularly and more seriously than others, so to deny the impact of this is to suffer twice as hard.
There are some strategies that we can use which will help to push back against the subtle influences of how men are expected to think and behave, which in turn will promote good mental health and wellbeing. These include:
1. Recognise and challenge harmful stereotypes
If this post has resonated at all with you, you’re already on your way to challenging traditional notions of masculinity and what men ‘ought to be like’. Question rigid notions of manhood like those that discourage emotional expression or vulnerability. Be aware of societal expectations and stereotypes surrounding masculinity, as these can contribute to mental health issues.
2. Talk about problems and talk coping
Social isolation plagues men, so keep up friendships early on and get involved in communities that do the things you like, whether gaming, sports, or other kinds of pastime. Take this a step further though, and when you find the right people, see if you can talk about more than just a shared interest. For example, talk about life and how things are going. If you’re with good friends and you know they’ve had some recent challenge, ask them about it. You don’t have to turn yourself into a therapist to ask how others are doing, and one day, you might value if it is reciprocated.
3. Give yourself a break
Everyone has bad days. Days when they don’t want to get out of bed. Sometimes it’s a bad week. Bad days are generally only a problem when they don’t seem to stop, so to have them now and again is human. It would be unrealistic to expect to be on full form every day of your life, so cut yourself some slack when the occasional bad day comes around. Let it happen, engage in some self-care, and take it easy, then dust yourself off and get back to life properly the next day.
4. Find yourself the right role model
It’s important to have people to look up to. These people can inspire us and we can aspire to be more like them. But when these people are celebrities or otherwise famous, then like with social media, we often only get to see the newsworthy stuff, like their successes. But whoever you choose, remember that they will sometimes have bad days or struggle with their mental health. Even some of the most ‘macho’ celebrities have opened up about their struggles to try to remind people of the normality of ups and downs with mental health. See if you can find someone you admire who opens up about their mental health and also copes with it in a positive way.
5. Find your supports
If you have people in your life that you can talk to when you feel down, you’re fortunate and should be grateful for these relationships. But people aren’t always the most reliable, so it’s good to have other sources of support that we can also turn to when we need to feel better. For example, are there activities you do, or could do, that make you feel good or leave you in a good mood? Perhaps there are places you can go to that make you feel this way? Try to identify a few of these supports that are accessible to you and make sure they aren’t harmful. Also, remember that variety and moderation are key, so rein in the gym or skate park hours, retail therapy, or gaming marathons, and keep things balanced. We also still need people, so consider these additions into your network to maximise your support and do talk things out with someone when it would be beneficial to do so.