"Men"tal Health

The first season of the new ABC show “Million Little Things” is about to end on February 28. The hit show centers around a group of friends coping with the suicide of a close friend. ‘Million Little Things’ is an amazing show in itself but goes above and beyond as it centers around the epidemic that is male suicide. Here are some statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) about suicide:

  • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x’s more often than women

  • White males made up 77.97% of suicide in 2017

  • Suicide rates are highest in middle-aged white men

These alarming and heartbreaking statistics beg the questions, why are men so heavily affected by suicide and what can be done? The conversation about suicide is a complex one because every individual is fighting their own unique battle but when the data shows that a particular group is being more heavily affected, it’s important to explore why. The Man Box is a study conducted by Promundo and Axe regarding what young men in the U.S., U.K., and Mexico believe about being “a real man.” The findings concluded that men who thought being a “real man” meant being tough, bottling up feelings, and not talking about their problems were twice as likely to consider suicide. These findings highlight how toxic masculinity is extremely harmful to men, a part of the conversation that I think gets ignored too often.

In the US and many places around the world, men are socialized and taught from a young age to suppress their feelings. This particular culture has created a problem where it’s not that men won’t talk about their feelings and emotion but they literally lack the language and capability to identify emotions. If men can’t even recognize their feelings, how are they supposed to reach out for the help and support they so desperately need?

To begin fighting the male suicide epidemic, we must fight the system that cultivated this problem. There is a stigma around asking for help as a man. Remember that famous trope that men won’t ask for driving directions? If men can’t ask for help on a road trip, how can we expect them to ask for help when it comes to mental health?

The long understanding of manhood has put the idea in our heads that asking for help makes you gay, feminine, or weak. The belief is that if you’re any of those things, you are not a real man. From a young age, while young girls are encouraged to express themselves and talk, boys are told to “suck it up” or that “men don’t cry.” We need to break this narrative and allow boys to emote, express themselves and cry because boys will eventually turn into men. Feelings and crying are manly.

While I believe emotions should be framed as masculine, I think it’s important to point out that this culture and idea of manhood is very closely tied to misogyny and homophobia.  The idea that you’d be seen as homosexual or feminine is so terrifying to many men that they spend years bottling up emotions that eventually lead to their suicide. We don’t just need to adjust how we view masculinity but how we view women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There should be nothing wrong with being viewed as similar to women or gay men.

I hope our society can begin to shift our idea of what it means to be a  “real man.” “Million Little Things” is the perfect step in the right direction as we watch three heterosexual men deal with the suicide of a close friend along with their own lives. As the show progresses, it brings up many things that need to be addressed when talking about mental health, for both men and women. If you’re able to, please try and watch “Million Little Things” as it may help you understand and see the problem we are facing in society better.

 

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