MENtal health: Why boys suffer
Most boys in Ireland and the UK grow up around friends and family who are not good at expressing their emotions. Not because they choose not to, but rather because they do not know how to. Even the family who sing into hairbrushes while cooking dinner struggle to tell one another that they love each other. To this day, I personally struggle to embrace a hug, I avoid hand gestures such as high fives because of the awkward feeling it gives me, and I panic if someone says they love me. When I’m with my family, I communicate through news and gossip. When I’m with my friends, I communicate through banter. That’s it.
With the lads, we play Fifa, we participate in sport, and we update each other on our romantic interests. Everything is a competition and this is our script that we need to follow. Anything outside of that script does not belong. If one of the lads tries to dress different from the rest, we tell him to fuck off. When one of the lads says he is giving up drinking alcohol, we tell him to shut up, and when one of the lads wants to talk about his emotions, we simply ignore it, again not because we choose to, but because we don’t know how to deal with them. But what about when one of the lads knows he’s gay but can’t tell the group? What about when one of the lads hasn’t slept or eaten in days because he’s worried about his exams? Or what if one of the lads finds out that he has terminal cancer? What then? That’s not part of the script.
Suicide is the biggest killer of males under 50. Suicide is also something that is completely avoidable. As mentioned in previous blogs, this is a societal crisis. We are told we are a product of our choices, but the problem is that young boys are not made aware of their choices. They are told they have to follow the script or be excluded, and this leads them down a dark path of unrealistic expectations of masculinity, loneliness, and repression. Society does not allow boys to have whole friendships. The lads will laugh with you, they’ll protect you physically against any geezer who threatens you, but they won’t help support you mentally when you need it. Not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how to.
Now this is not to say that women are not suffering just as much as men. It’s just a different form. The naturalness of a woman asking another woman how they are feeling is much more straightforward than for men. The problem with men and mental health is that society has unfortunately engrained the idea that is not normal for men to talk about their emotions.
9 year old Jamel Myles came out as gay and he was bullied so badly, he resorted to suicide. Ronan Hughes unknowingly sent naked pictures to scam artists, who then threatened to blackmail him. He took his own life as a result. And finally, an 11 year old in Singapore couldn't deal with the stress of his exam results so he took his own life by jumping out the window. We can no longer fathom the pressures that young boys are under. They live in a society where it is accepted that young boys can easily gain access to guns and drugs and the idea of suicide has been normalised, but they can’t talk about their emotions? The world is not yet broken but right now, it doesn’t make any sense.
So what can we do? We can make young boys aware of their choices, we make them aware of what to do when something doesn’t follow the script, and we make them aware that they can talk about their emotions. Suicide is not just a statistic. It ruins lives. What is even more important is that male suicide has dropped for the first time last year, and this is because of the fantastic work that mental health organisations have achieved. Campaigns such as ‘It’s ok not to be ok’, CALM and ‘Alright mate’ are changing the way men understand their mental health. But we can’t stop now. The mission is only beginning. We at Motus are now taking on the next step of normalising emotions from childhood. We want to highlight that fundraising for Movember will give money to mental health awareness. Please donate if you want to help the male mental health epidemic. And if not, then simply ask your brother, your father, your son, your friend, how are you? It opens doors you can’t even imagine.