In honor of national suicide prevention month, I thought it may be a good idea to shed some light and hopefully open some people’s eyes on the topic of mental health, specifically men. Mental health in the United States is a major problem. Whether it is related to the on-going pandemic and the past shut down of our country (which has caused a 93% increase in people seeking treatment for mental health according to Mental Health America) or is an on-going condition which started before the pandemic, mental health struggles have hit our country very hard. While women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, men are much more likely to die by suicide. Why might you ask? I don’t have the answer to that; however, I do in fact have an idea of where this problem may stem from.
Growing up, most young boys are immediately taught that they must “be a man”. They must bottle up every ounce of emotion they have and hide it so that no one can see. They are only allowed to show anger; they can’t cry, can’t whine, can’t show any kind of emotion that shows they may be weak. But these other emotions do not make someone weak. The strongest people are those who are willing to accept they are having these feelings and reach out for help from others. This sort of toxic masculinity that is “be a man” is taught from day one for most young boys and is a cancer to our society. It leads men to develop a do-it-yourself attitude that can take years to overcome. This mentality forces men to internalize all their feelings and never feel like they can go to anyone but themselves.
Females on the other hand, are not subjected to this kind of pressure to bottle up all emotions they have. They are 100 percent subjected to many different pressures but not that of “be a man”. Being a male, I do not know what it is like to grow up as a female, but I do know what it feels like to be under the pressure to “be a man” from a very young age. In my opinion, this toxic masculinity is the cause for why men are affected by suicide more than women. Women are not taught to bottle up their emotions, therefore making it easier for them to reach out for help with anxiety, depression, etc. Reaching out for help is no easy task for anyone, and I do not want to make it seem like that is an easy thing to do. But, because of the toxic masculinity in this country, men are far less likely to reach out for help. They don’t want to be judged for being “weak” or don’t want to be vulnerable with someone who won’t truly listen to them. This then leads to higher suicide rates among men, while having a lower rate of anxiety and depression. Men and women struggle with mental health at similar rates but reach out in very disproportionate rates. In 2017, for males aged 15-24 the suicide rate was 22.7. percent compared to 5.8 percent in females (CDC). This is an alarmingly high gap between the two genders. This was the common theme amongst all age groups from the CDC study in 2017, with the biggest gap being in the 45-64 age range. The men in this group have a 20.4 percent higher rate of suicide.
This graph was taken from the CDC study on suicide in 2017.
How can we change this? How can we change something that has been ingrained in men for decades? This may seem like an unproductive answer, but the best way to change this is to talk about it. As someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, I know how much talking about it can make a difference. For me personally reaching out for help was one of the hardest parts. I struggled in silence out of fear of the way people would look at me. But hearing other people tell their story, specifically men, and talk about their mental health really helped me open up when I needed help. To this day I still get worried about the way people will look at me as this is the first time I’ve ever talked publicly about my struggle. But one thing I have learned through my journey is you need to talk about it. I am done bottling all my emotions up because of the toxic masculinity we have in the United States. I am done allowing the fear of looking “weak” to control the way I handle my emotions.
An initiative we have here at Davidson amongst the student athletes is that it’s okay to not be okay, and as cliché as it sounds that’s the truth. You don’t have to be healthy 24/7, but you do need the maturity to look yourself in the eyes and know when you need help.