To acknowledge, understand, and treat mental health in an open and honest way is something which all societies should aspire to. However, with varying forces of oppression, subjection and marginalisation shaping individuals in unique and complex ways, conversations about mental health are often faced with difficult challenges.
In recent years, popular media has begun to communicate how gender structures, and more specifically, ideas of masculinity may impact men to neglect and side-line their mental health. This is not to deny that femininity, and trans identities do not have their own relationships with mental health, but in this short piece, I hope to discuss how traditional ‘masculinity’ blocks many from help.
A society predicated on the ‘stiff-upper lip’ of the Victorian-era implies that men must inhabit a space of emotionlessness, of ‘rationality’.
Men are socialised into understanding that emotion, unless its anger, is sensitive, is unwanted, and ‘worst’ of all, is feminine.
Mental health, therefore, is understood as something intrinsically connected with emotional well-being and vulnerability, two ideas which are attached to the feminine, attached to what men ‘should not’ be.
Structures of race and sexuality complicate this situation further. For myself, a second generation, British Sikh, the intensive physical labour undertaken by our elders is positioned as a stark contrast to the often misunderstood, ‘invisible’, impacts of deteriorations in mental health.
Everyone faces a unique set of challenges to discussing mental health, however, there are certain, small, changes we can make to combat such problematic structures.
Phrases such as ‘man up’, or ‘grow a pair’, as innocent as they may seem, contribute to a false notion of what men ‘should be’.
As a society, men of all backgrounds should be allowed to present emotion, to acknowledge vulnerability, and not face possible social stigma from their peers. We, as a cohesive unit, are all complicit in encouraging such structures, we must collectively understand that our ideas of what a ‘man’ is, and what a man ‘should be’ are inherently false, and are doing more harm than good to both the physical and mental Selves of the entirety of the population.
The discussion is one step, however, there needs to be work done to ensure that people have the confidence and comfort to speak-up in the first place, and this is the work I know Alternative Education can provide, in schools, in college, wherever it may be.
Only together can we begin to reframe how we think about mental health in relation to ourselves.
Written by Shuranjeet Takhar