Trigger Warning: mentions of suicide, anxiety, and symptoms
Mental illnesses such as anxiety are a serious issue; I would say there's no denying that, but society specialises in denial. Although awareness has only increased over the past decade, its positive impact hasn't caught up fast enough.
“About 800,000 individuals take their own lives globally and 500,000 of those are men," according to Mark Hedstrom, executive director of the men's health awareness organisation Movember. A study by Movember indicated that 58% of men thought society expects them to be "emotionally strong" and not show signs of weakness. Hence, men are less likely to express how they feel or seek professional help, worsening the situation.
"Worry Grabs You By The Balls"
The problem stems, in part, from gender roles. We've all heard phrases like "man up" and "boys don't cry" used in response to men expressing emotions, particularly negative ones. From childhood itself, boys are taught that signs of weakness aren't manly and to toughen up.
Hence, common symptoms of anxiety, such as panicking and being unable to breathe, are often misinterpreted as signs of weakness. How could a guy talk about experiencing something like this? Is he not strong enough to deal with the "real" world (whatever that's supposed to refer to?)
Such feelings and worries are often kept bottled up, which may then be expressed through rage, violence, or a variety of harmful behaviours. Ironically enough, the latter expressions are deemed more socially acceptable compared to fear, worry, or anxiety.
Often, individuals suffering through mental stress and issues feel alone, as they do not see anyone else going through similar experiences. The refusal to talk about and recognise anxiety hence becomes a vicious circle It pressurises others into doing the same, for the fear of being judged and misunderstood.
Recognising the Impact of Anxiety
Unsurprisingly, anxiety is much more common amongst men than is assumed. Around a third have reported feeling anxious about their body image at some point in time, and 10% of guys have had suicidal thoughts due to the same. The more research is conducted, the more serious the matter begins to appear, as 35% of the youth under 35 suffers from mental health issues. That's over one in every 3 people!
Suffering from anxiety during the teenage years may lead to excessive drinking later in life. This can be an attempt to self-medicate, a coping mechanism, increased risk of dependency, or due to a number of other reasons.
Moreover, office employees are often unwilling to admit or talk about their struggles, fearing the risk of being fired. The overbearing sense of duty of being the "breadwinner" still prevails in many societies, adding to the pressure sufferers are under. This is especially prevalent in Indian society, where many cultures follow a breadwinner-homemaker-child family structure even today.
A Better Place To Live In
Tackling the misconceptions and prevailing notions about anxiety and mental health is particularly complex due to how closely they are tied to the existing perception of masculinity.
One approach is to reinforce the idea of masculinity with the courage of expressing yourself and seeking help. This is beneficial as it provides changes to an existing structure instead of challenging it, hence being easier to adapt to.
However, there is a concern that reinforcing the dependence on gender roles will only complicate issues in the future. Instead, the very concept of stereotypes should be de-established, right from institutions and school up to working professionals in offices. This method, on the other hand, can put guys in a defensive stance at first due to a perceived attack on masculinity itself. It would be more beneficial to deconstruct such roles on a long-term basis, gradual enough to not be a cultural shock.
Men may be men, but it is up to us all to define what being a man means in the first place.