Conversations around social issues are invariably sensitive, but the complexity can escalate when it involves the delicate topic of men’s issues. For many, the mere mention of men’s issues invites a convoluted blend of resistance, scepticism, and even hostility. This reality is a consequence of our social conditioning: the societal narrative often casts men as the privileged and powerful majority. But research and data show that men, too, face a unique set of problems and challenges.
The crux of the difficulty lies in the perception of men and the pervasive sociocultural dynamics. Men are often seen as the privileged gender, holding a considerable amount of power, and are often the first ones to be invited to discussions about inclusion, with the expectation that they play the role of allies. These conversations are undoubtedly essential in fostering a more inclusive society. Yet, a parallel necessity exists – that of providing a space where men can openly express the challenges they experience.
One such challenge is the societal expectation of men as primary breadwinners. A 2017 report by Pew Research Center found that 71% of adults believe it’s very important for men to support their families financially to be considered good partners. This pressure can exacerbate stress and negatively impact mental health.
The concept of gamma bias, a cognitive bias that exaggerates the negatives and minimises the positives in men, also feeds into these pressures. This bias often skews our perceptions, casting societal pressures, expectations, and discrimination men face as normal or even non-existent. We must recognise that, in spite of the privileges they hold, men too can be victims of societal prejudices and discriminations and can experience pain and hardship in various forms.
Discussing men’s issues is not about creating an us-vs-them dichotomy. It’s about expanding the dialogue to include everyone. It’s about recognising that gender issues are not a zero-sum game, where talking about the struggles of one gender diminishes the legitimacy of the other’s. It’s about understanding that acknowledging the existence of men’s issues can coexist with the fight for women’s rights and that it can, in fact, strengthen it.
While depression and anxiety are human problems, they manifest differently among different genders due to the weight of societal expectations. Men are often conditioned not to show vulnerability, leading to a high rate of undiagnosed mental health issues among them. In fact, men are less likely than women to have received mental health treatments. Recognising this isn’t a threat to women’s mental health issues; instead, it creates a more inclusive mental health dialogue.
The stigma around men’s issues persists largely due to the widespread concept of toxic masculinity. This concept, rooted in societal conditioning, portrays men as stoic, invulnerable beings who must suppress their emotions. This stereotype contributes to the high suicide rates among men, which the World Health Organization reported as being nearly twice as high as that of women in 2020.
To combat these issues, several initiatives and organisations have sprung up, each taking a unique approach towards addressing men’s issues. One such organisation is the Men’s Shed movement. Originating in Australia, it has now spread worldwide and aims to provide a safe and nurturing environment for men to discuss their issues.
Campaigns such as Movember have sought to raise awareness about men’s health issues on a more public platform, including mental health and suicide prevention. Their efforts have sparked global conversations and brought these issues into the mainstream discourse, underlining the fact that men’s mental health matters.
In the academic field, the Centre for Male Psychology, an important research institution, is working to understand and address the psychological needs of men. Their research and initiatives bring attention to the unique ways in which men experience and express their mental health challenges, underscoring the need for tailored mental health interventions for men.
Recognising the vital role of early intervention, schools and workplaces are also beginning to introduce programs focusing on mental health literacy and resilience training targeted towards men. These programs aim to provide men with the tools to understand and manage their mental health, promoting well-being in all aspects of their lives.
These initiatives signify a shift towards a more inclusive understanding of mental health, one that acknowledges the unique experiences and challenges faced by men. But there is still much work to be done, and it begins with open, empathetic, and stigma-free conversations about men’s mental health.
Progressing towards a more compassionate society requires that we acknowledge, validate, and address the challenges faced by all its members. It is crucial, therefore, that we start talking about men’s issues with the same openness, empathy, and understanding we apply to women’s issues. Only then can we truly say we live in a society that values equality, understanding, and compassion above all.
Opening the discussion about men’s issues does not mean overshadowing or undermining other struggles, but rather enriching our collective empathy. The resistance towards discussing men’s issues is not insurmountable. It merely requires us to reframe our understanding and broaden our perception.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.