Two years ago, my brother passed away, suicide. The word sends shivers down my spine, and with it, a rumbling wave of emotions; primarily, confusion. Why did he feel the need to end his life? Was the love that his family and friends gave not enough? Did he think – even for one second – about the grieving people he would leave behind? These questions still haunt me.
We are currently living in a crisis. A crisis where men and boys are confined and trapped by rigid gender stereotypes. Stereotypes which lead to poor mental health, depression, and suicide. From an early age, boys are expected to be relentlessly self-reliant, tough, dominant, and able to manage pain. Before they even start school, they are indoctrinated with emphatic platitudes such as “boys don’t cry”, “toughen up”, and “don’t be a girl”. In addition to such overt expressions are the subtler actions that reinforce these stereotypes: such as male role models never disclosing their feelings.
Fast forward 15 years, these messages from society manifest into a man who embodies traditional masculine stereotypes. A man who presents a brave facade and never talks about his feelings, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. A man who cannot reach out; not because he does not want to, but simply because he does not know how to.
This man could be your brother, boyfriend, dad, or close friend. The most disconcerting notion is that he will suffer silently, and those around him will realise that he is hurting only after it is too late. After he is gone,they will look back and notice the signs: withdrawal from family events, increased irritability, excuses to stay at home, reliance on alcohol, the list goes on. Yet, it will not matter, because there is nothing they can do to bring him back.
Indeed, society recognises that men’s mental health is a significant problem. Yet we are failing to provide an appropriate response; a response that tackles the root causes of the issue. Ostensibly, encouraging men to talk to their mates about their problems should be a fitting solution. Surely this, in addition to seeking professional medical help, is enough to combat this crisis?
However, we will only solve half of the problem if we invest in only half of the solution, and only utilise half of the population. Thus, we desperately need women – mums, girlfriends, sisters, wives, aunties – to join the fighting force against male stereotypes.
We as women are generally free to talk without inhibition. It doesn’t matter if we are out for breakfast, on a run, or on the dance floor, we can talk about anything and everything. From our feelings towards a relationship coming to an end, to being stressed about missing an episode of the Bachelor, there is nothing too awkward – nothing too shameful – that we cannot talk about with our closest girlfriends.
Evidently, our fellow male counterparts need our assistance in this field, and this is what we can do to help:
a) Words often conceal the truth.If something traumatic has happened and a guy you are close to says he is “fine” do not always accept this as true. Often the people who put on the bravest and most cheerful facade to the world, truly need help. Continue to check up on him if you have noticed a significant change in his attitude or behaviour.
b) It’s ok not to talk. If a close male friend does not want to talk to you – he insists that he really is “fine” – let him know that you are always there for a chat; often people do not like being pressured to talk.
c) Get physical! A lot of guys prefer to do activities, such as sport, when they have something on their mind. Therefore, engaging in some kind of activity with the guy you are close with could be an ideal starting point for a conversation.
d) Break down stereotypes. Although it may seem uncomfortable or staged at first, let him know that it is ok to talk about his feelings, it is normal to be sad and to cry. If he respects you, he will truly take on board what you say.
While these may seem like simple and even superficial steps to combating such a large and widespread issue, if every woman and girl shares her expert talking powers with her male friends, boyfriend, brother or other male family members, these steps have the potential to save lives. We should never underestimate the power of asking someone if they are ok.