“Grow some balls!” – The Man and the Stigma of Mental Health
Despite the rising ratio of male to female suicides, progress is not being made fast enough over the discussion of men, mental health, and how social stigmas can be combatted.
Men and women are not equal. Still, it is evidenced that women are not valued as equal to men in work or social standing. As an example, look only at the devastating insight into the BBC gender pay gap. Private companies should be prepared to run for the hills if the government should demand a similar transparency to the BBC.
In other ways however, the burden of social pressures do not only rest on the shoulders of women.
For the first time in many years the Office for National Statistics revealed that the UK suicide rate saw an increase in women for the first time, and a decrease in men. In the grand scheme of things however, this pattern is insignificant.
In the same ONS report, it was acknowledged that suicide rates for men across a variety of fields were 3 times higher than that of women. We have known for many years that this trend is on the rise, but worryingly little progress is being made about it.
The illnesses that affect men and women are frighteningly similar. This does not necessarily mean only depression, it could be anxiety, addiction or personality disorders.
Where the circumstances differ, is around the social pressures that men face in comparison to women. It is still not wholly encouraged for men to open up about their feelings. If anything we still live in a world where men are prompted to suppress their emotions. Although this may be a generalisation, when women get together their discussions tend to be more open, deeply exploring their concerns, and more generally weight-lifting. The same cannot be said for men.
Clearly, this barrier must be broken down, but those in power are stumped at how to go about it.
Celebrities have had a growing influence. Professor Green’s eye-opening BBC3 documentary on depression is just an example. Alternatively, one could look at singer James Arthur’s attempts to try and break the stigma with the charity SANE.
While there can be no easy answer to this debate, it seems imperative that change must come from below. A way of doing this would be to encourage parents to reach out to their children – not necessarily at a young age – to talk about their concerns and share experiences. Similarly, as has been increasing over recent years, incorporating discussions over mental health in high school education – and maybe even earlier – may help to get the ball rolling. Even of this is used as a catalyst for discussion in the home.
Social pressures and inequalities affect both men and women. While pay gaps can be criticised and narrowed through public inquiries, it is much more difficult for a government to encourage a dialogue between people that has never been advocated before. Not only that, but a one that has been actively discouraged.