Men don't show their emotions, big men don't cry and men are just tougher than women!
How many times have you heard or even made a statement like these?Well two things happened over the course of the past few months which made me determined to write this article. We really need to dispell the myth that these are absolutes, that they are true all the time and in almost every case.
Firstly the only man to attend a talk on understanding anxiety and depression was the first person to come to me and discuss getting further support. His body language during the session was telling me, 'I am bored, I have switched off and I don't really want to be here'. Well at first that is how I interpreted his arms folded, torso slouched in the chair and facing away from the group he was working with. During our discussions afterwards I was surprised but pleased to get a sense of this articulate, thoughtful and reflective gentleman. He had some insight into himself and was forthright in seeking help. I was pleased that I had continued to involve him during a workshop, rather than become convinced that he simply was not interested. Still I did wonder about the dissonance between how this man initially came across and my new understanding of him, and how he might experience this in his other relationships e.g. work colleagues, family and friends.
Secondly I woke up one day to see alerts for a new post within an online discussion . Many of the participants know each other and 'banter' is always present. I tend to dip in and out of the group depending on the topic but I was compelled to comment. There was a post about a man who apparently always had an opinion and a tough bravado. Posted were a series of comments from women, discussing how he had cried and threatened suicide during romantic break ups. Now I won't try to 'therapise' (interpret) what had gone on between this man and two of his ex partners but I was totally shocked by the general comments of the group. There was mocking, belittling of the man and his actions from both men and women. There were comments in the hundreds so I didn't scroll through it all. I simply 'voiced' that it did not seem appropriate to make fun of the this man for his response to the end of a relationship. It seemed clear and quite blatant that it should be viewed as a cry for help, even if it was his attempt to manipulate these women.
Right now it appears to me that masculinity is very much attached to ideas about strength, resilience and being less emotional. What is more the term 'toxic masculinity' misleading in the sense that it fails to address that men are not just more likely to behave in ways that are harmful to women and children, but also towards other men (BBC 2019).
Maybe there is a lack of awareness and acceptance regarding different ways of being a man. And potentially a lack of compassion towards men in general let alone a man with mental health issues.
The current fascination with gender and it's fluidity-I feel provides society with questions such as, how we define manhood? Societal initiatives e.g. paternal leave for new fathers, challenges the stereotype of fathers not being as involved in childcare and development. Tjings like tjis reflects some of the changes which might have a positive impact on providing support for men. For example if we view men as more vulnerable, who are able to talk openly about emotions and their thoughts, we are more likely to hear and understand what they need.
That is why it was important at the Understanding Anxiety and Depression talk that I highlighted the different ways that anxiety and depression can present in Men, women and children. Identifying the nuances helps one to recognise the symptoms of distress and not just attribute it to 'what men do. For instance did you know that depression in men can look like tiredness, irritability and anger. They may show more reckless behaviour and abuse drugs and alcohol. This is very different to the manifestation of sadness and worthlessness, which are more closely associated with women-and often publicised in mental health campaigns within the UK. Thus making men a problem rather than explore the problems that men may have.
This is also why mixed groups can be beneficial for men and women. Groups help with personal development as it encourages 'attentive and respectful listening', the opportunity to educate others and a greater capacity to empathise with others (Brookfield & Preskil 2005).The Brother and Sistar circle hosted by Danielle Adams in Tulse Hill is one such group. It is a physical discussion group for men and women of all ages, who come together to listen understand and process their own thoughts, feelings and emotions.
I think mixed groups provides the necessary opportunity to hear and learn from the 'opposite sex'. It helps to bridge the gap when a lot of people still uphold the belief 'that men are from Mars and women are from venus' without focusing on how to relate to one another. Irrespective of gender, shouldn't ones ability to understand onself and othes- be a crucial aspect of what it means to be human?