Sunday 19th November marked International Men’s Day 2017. This day is often met with a certain amount of resistance, in which some individuals typically respond, “isn’t every day International Men’s Day?”. Verified journalist @laurenduca even went so far as to tweet that the day is “cancelled” (receiving over 2,000 retweets and 15,500 likes).
However, rejection of International Men’s Day is the failure to recognize its true objectives, which focus on men’s mental health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality and highlighting positive male role models.
According to most recent World Health Organisation data, close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Male suicide rates remain consistently higher than female suicide rates across the UK and Republic of Ireland – most notably 5 times higher in Republic of Ireland and around 3 times higher in the UK (Samaritans report 2017). The International Men’s Day campaign states this is a problem worldwide, excepting China where suicide rates are about equal between men and women. Despite this, fewer men on average are diagnosed with depression each year.
We are therefore met with a paradox of a high depression and low suicide rate in females, and a low depression and high suicide rate in males. There are many factors that may contribute to this, such as the widespread use of generic diagnostic criteria that are not sensitive to depression in men. Another reason could be higher tendency towards impulsivity in men than women or threats to job security. Suicide prevention charity CALM found that 80% of men aged 35-44 consider their job to be important to their self-esteem. A further 42% believed that they should be the main breadwinners in their household, whilst only 13% of women think the same. With regards to social factors, traditional masculinity is thought to be a key risk factor for male vulnerability, promoting maladaptive coping strategies such as emotional inexpressiveness, reluctance to seek help, or alcohol abuse.
The traditional male gender-role includes attributes such as striving for power and dominance, aggressiveness, independency, competitiveness, rationality and invulnerability. This emphasis on achievement and success increases pressure to meet expectations, fear of failure and suppression of distress. As boys are taught to be stoical and ignore symptoms, through phrases such as “boys don’t cry” and “man up”, the threshold for expressing pain and emotional sensitivity, especially related to emotions like weakness, uncertainty, helplessness and sadness, is heightened and this results in emotional restriction. Unlike women, society has not encouraged men to speak openly about their feelings, to each other or loved ones. The masculine stereotype does not encourage seeking help, even if help is needed and could be available. Research conducted by the Medical University of Vienna in 2015 studying male suicide survivors aged 18-67 concluded: “Almost all men reported that their masculine beliefs led to them isolating themselves when they were feeling down, to avoid imposing on others… and instead relied on coping strategies that required less immediate effort and provided short-term alleviation of problems, for example drug or alcohol use, gambling and working excessively.”
Although we are now largely aware of the dangerous effects of the traditional male gender role, with efforts being made to discourage this damaging behaviour, there is still a lot more that can be done to raise awareness of men’s mental health. International Men’s Day is a vital time for charities such as the ManKind Initiative, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), Men Get Eating Disorders Too, Survivors Manchester and ManKind Counselling to promote their causes, as well as coinciding with Movember.
Acknowledging the difficulties that men face does not take away from the many issues that face women. So, when suicide is the leading cause of death in men from the UK aged 20-49; when more than 40% of victims of domestic violence are male (as reported by Parity, a men’s issues campaigning group, in 2010); when boys are demonstrated to underperform girls at every stage of education; and when the majority of homeless people, those in prison and the long-term unemployed are men, it can be rightfully said that every day is not International Men’s Day.
To see how you can help, or for more information about the charities mentioned: