It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that Canada is experiencing a severe mental health epidemic. Statistics provided by the Canadian Mental Health Assocation state that by age 40, over 50% of the entire Canadian population will have experienced some form of mental illness, and out of those who believe they may be suffering from depression or anxiety, only half will reach out and seek professional help. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people from adolescence to middle age. Needless to say, things are at a critical point.
Men’s mental health, specifically, is an under-discussed topic, which consequently makes it a misunderstood topic. Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, and 75% of all suicides in Canada are committed by men. These statistics are absolutely staggering, which makes it all the more baffling that men’s mental health is often swept under the rug. The harmful stigma that still surrounds mental illness seems to be the largest disincentive in increasing mental health awareness as it decreases the likelihood of open discussion and promotes a reluctance to seek treatment.
Depression, a mood disorder and one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses, is nothing to be ashamed of and shouldn’t be subjected to the stigmas and incorrect assumptions that continue to plague it. There are a few reasons why someone may develop depression. Genetics are a huge factor because having a family history of mental illness makes developing one much more likely. Depression can also be triggered by environmental stress, such as facing major life changes, the loss of a loved one, or a stressful work or school environment. Depression is more than just feeling sad or down every once in a while, which are perfectly normal emotions to have. It is persistent and can present itself as constant sadness or worry, disinterest in seeing people or doing things that used to bring happiness, abnormal changes in sleep or eating habits, and various other debilitations.
Societal gender norms play into the stigma surrounding mental health in a huge way, and factor into why men’s mental health is not being afforded the attention that it so evidently requires. The overly generalized “masculine ideology” dictates what it means to be a man based on harmful stereotypes such as the idea that men must suppress their emotions for fear of appearing weak. This ideology is one that is enforced and promoted even in childhood, which causes it to become deeply ingrained. It should be thought of as unrealistic and damaging; instead, it is seen as normal and something to strive for.
Being fully independent is another generalized expectation of men that can have negative effects on mental health. While having a sense of independence (holding responsibilities, taking leadership roles etc.) can be a good thing, it falls into dangerous territory when being independent is interpreted as having to manage things alone. When people begin struggling with their mental health, a common reaction is to try to deal with it independently rather than seeking help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and independence should not negate this.
Movember is the perfect time to dig deeper and promote awareness surrounding men’s physical and mental health, but discourse on the subject should not be limited to one month alone. Despite great strides made in mental health awareness, there is still much to be done. Anyone struggling with their mental health is encouraged to seek support, whether that comes in the form of talking to a friend or counsellor, seeking medical advice and/or medication, or making small but impactful changes to an everyday routine. For more resources, visit https://ca.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health.