The conversation around mental health is often centred amongst women. The fact that women are inherently given the space to me more in-tune with their feelings is a big factor. Men, raised under the trope of 'act like a man' often repress their feelings and feel less comfortable sharing with other. This leads to unreported cases of depression and in extreme cases, suicide. Here's why black men need to take their mental health more seriously.
While many in our community believe that suicide is a 'western issue', more and more research is finding that suicide rates among Africans are on the rise, especially among our men. Depression and anxiety are rife as we try to navigate through the harsh realities of modern life and finding a healthy mental balance seems increasingly more impossible to achieve. The subject of mental health was considered a taboo and swept right under the carpet along with its sufferers who were left to deal with their problems virtually on their own. Although a tentative dialogue has been opened and this generation has gone to great lengths to lift the veil shrouding mental health, there are many still suffering in silence, namely men. We must ask ourselves why exactly our men are becoming increasingly more susceptible and why more isn't being done to support them.
In order to fully understand why men are inherently more vulnerable, we need to understand the concept of toxic masculinity and how teaching men to be 'men' is in fact doing more harm than good.
If we are being brutally honest, we have known for a very long time that men are trapped by their misguided sense of 'masculinity.' Whilst social constructs of femininity mean women are supposed to look good, be beautiful, soft, accommodating and accepting, social constructs of masculinity demand simply that men prove that they are 'men' through a series of damaging practices that are instilled in them from as early on as birth.
As a result, young men learn from a very early age to internalise rather than express their feelings which goes on to have adverse effects on their emotional development later on in life. It doesn't mean that they have fewer emotions but suppress the urge to express them as freely. Herein begins a lifetime of emotional disillusionment and when we suppress our emotions, our issues begin to present themselves in other, more dangerous and harmful ways.
In his book,Why Men Can’t Feel, Marvin Allen states, “We encourage boys to be competitive, focus on external success, rely on their intellect, withstand physical pain, and repress their vulnerable emotions. When boys violate the code, it is not uncommon for them to be teased, shamed, or ridiculed.” The cliche about men not being in touch with their emotions says nothing about inherent markers of maleness. It instead identifies behavioural outcomes that have been rigorously taught, often by well-meaning parents and society at large.”
So, what steps can we take to unlearn this behaviour? How can we become our brother's keepers? First, it's important to understand the signs of depression and anxiety. Yes, lack of confidence, isolation, mood swings and low self-esteem can be signs of growing mental health problems but in men it's important to add that acting out, uncharacteristically loud, exuberant and obnoxious behaviour can also be indicators. Men are more likely than women to suffer from rage disorders and use alcohol or drugs as a means of self-medication.
The key is to pay attention to the men in our lives. Often, their behaviour can go overlooked and any changes attributed to external factors but it's important to establish a dialogue and safe space for them to discuss their feelings.
To survive in our society, we preach the idea of endurance, that we must somehow be steadfast as life constantly does its worst but human beings are not infallible. We often stumble and fall and in this instance, prevention does not trump cure. In this instance, knowledge and understanding are what we need to combat the effects of mental health problems.
Too often, men who are suffering do so alone, believing that revealing their personal pain is tantamount to failing at their masculinity. We are a society that has more respect for the walking wounded than we do for those who let life 'get to them. It’s critical that we begin taking more seriously what we do to little boys, how we do it, and the high emotional cost demanded by 'masculinity', which turns emotionally whole little boys into emotionally debilitated adult men.
We have set an unfair and unachievable standard and by trying to live up to it, we find our men are inadvertently killing themselves. We must evolve past our obsolete ideas of masculinity and what it means 'to be a man.' We must start seeing men as just that; men. They should have no expectation placed upon their emotional and mental capacity and certainly no need to prove who they are to society at large or themselves.