For all the conversations about ‘redefining masculinity’ men are still largely defined by what they do as much as by who they are. From childhood, we are taught to suppress our emotions and as we get older, we are expected to ‘man up,’ to bury our emotions ever more deeply. As a result, when we are affected by significant life events like relationship changes or breakdown, and transitional periods such as redundancy or enforced under-employment we tend not to reach out for help, but to turn in on ourselves.
This often has negative effects on our wellbeing leading to poor physical and mental health and slow recovery from illness. Problems such as depression for example are overlooked or misdiagnosed. Often, we do minimal physical activity and have poor diets. As a result, we have more severe chronic conditions, higher mortality rates for all fifteen leading causes of death, and die on average seven years younger than women. We are twice as likely to be referred to mental health services and many times more likely than women to turn away from support and take our own lives.
Commonly, we do not experience the necessary positive, lasting, and meaningful social connections that can support us through times when life gets tough. And typically, also, we do not access mainstream health, community information & advice services for support.
We rarely create the conditions that generate positive circumstances and emotions. Who we spend time with and how we spend our time impacts hugely on our well being. All too often, we are likely to ‘act out’. Grumpiness, excessive ‘laddish’ banter, substance misuse, drinking too much, abusive and aggravated behaviours all mask our underlying difficulties.
Men are beginning to speak about these things more. There is more coverage of (often alpha type) men explaining how talking has, in some way, helped them; in some cases, even saved their lives. We need to move beyond simply the rallying cry to ‘open up.’ Where do men (and boys) go, and what do they, do after taking that first step?
Experience suggests that men like a project, something meaningful to get involved in. Something to get out of bed for in the morning. Something fun. Light. Interesting. Different. Getting men into a room is challenge. Once they are there – they will do plenty of talking as well as doing!