Mental health. It’s something that people rarely talk about, and sometimes it’s hard not to feel that there is somewhat of a taboo, making it hard for people to open up.
For men, it can be even worse. Society has advanced a staggering amount in as little time as fifty years: there have been leaps in medicine, the standard of living, and in education. More and more women are coming into the workplace, and the image of men as the breadwinners, or the head of the family, is becoming ever more outdated. Men can now expect to live longer than ever before, but despite that, we’re starting to see some troubling statistics that hint at a growing health crisis, especially amongst those under fifty. Indeed, the biggest cause of death amongst men who are under forty-five is suicide: men make up over 75% of suicides in the UK every year. It’s a shocking statistic.
Why? It’s no secret that men are much less likely to open up and talk about their feelings than women, and three times more likely to hit the bottle instead, if the UK’s alcoholism rates are anything to go by. The problem goes back to the way in which society sees men. Masculinity is still a prized attitude amongst many men: words like ‘tough’ and ‘strong’ are often used as compliments, and the phrase ‘man up’ is often used as an insult for men that are seen as ‘soft’. From a young age, boys are told not to cry, and this affects the way in which men deal with their feelings. The pressures of society, in which not acknowledging your feelings is a normal attitude, is dangerous: young men are less likely to open up and more likely to bottle it up until they cannot cope with it anymore.
This problem is widespread: in sports like rugby and especially football, depression affects a startlingly wide range of men: one in four footballers, according to this article from Service Care Solutions. Though this could be as much down to the rigours of the sport- and the pressure to succeed- than masculinity, there’s no doubt that men find it harder to talk about it than women, and this adds to a ‘culture’ of beer-drinking, stiff-upper-lipped masculinity which only adds to the problem. If ‘real men’ play football and live up to the stereotype of hard-working, hard-partying superstar, looked up to by millions of male fans worldwide, then how can men admit that they’re feeling less than stellar?
Well, attitudes are changing- and it’s about time. Footballing hero Rio Ferdinand recently opened up about his struggles with depression after losing his wife, and the Professional Footballer’s Association is now printing handbooks with advice and contact numbers for footballers who need it. High-profile figures like Prince Harry have also started to raise awareness about male depression, with Harry admitting that counselling has helped him to deal with the death of his mother. Along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, they have launched the Heads Together campaign, aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health, bringing it into mainstream media.
And society is changing, too. Men are becoming more comfortable doing things originally seen as ‘feminine’, such as taking paternity leave, or even staying at home to look after the children whilst their wives go to work. Gender expectations are starting to become more fluid, so here’s hoping that in the next ten years it will become normal for men to start talking about their feelings, too.