As Father's Day approaches, we focus a little more on the mental health needs and concerns of men.
Caroline has a unique perspective on men's mental health and has some insights to share about the adjectives we use to describe men and the stigma around them.
Men’s mental health has always been an important topic in my life. Growing up I was raised alongside one sister and five, yes five, brothers. I attended my younger brother’s wedding recently and was shocked by the reaction my own husband had about my brother’s sensitivity and vulnerability while speaking about his new wife in front of over 100 people. The difference between my husband's reaction and my own had me thinking - I appreciated my brother's vulnerability but my husband was shocked by it.
I have learned from many men in counselling sessions and also from the relationships I have with the men in my life that mental health was not discussed in childhood, and really, not discussed much at all in adulthood either. I have come to understand that mental health was a concealed matter rather than an opportunity to better understand themselves.
I believe that the stigma attached to mental health has been more impactful on males than it has been for women in many cases. I can connect this to the hegemonic masculinity that has been promoted in our society for a long time which has been perpetuated in politics, film and entertainment, business, law and order and so on. Even in the profession of social work, for which I am so proud to be a part of, there are very few men.
Men are raised, in most cases, to understand that being a man means being strong, confident, competitive, assertive, independent, and dominant. When adjectives like kind, sensitive, vulnerable and compassionate are used to describe men, it can be interpreted to mean weakness rather than strength of character. When we teach our men and boys that it is important to be described using the first list of adjectives and not the second, we are teaching them that being part of the second list is unimportant, and again, weak.
So how do we promote the importance of being kind, sensitive, vulnerable and compassionate so men can have an opportunity to explore their vulnerabilities?
I believe it can start at any time in a person’s life when they are ready to explore their mental health challenges. This can be in early childhood or late adulthood and can make such a difference in a person’s life. When we are better able to connect with our feelings and understand our emotions, we can understand our experiences in life with more clarity and can learn more about ourselves and the people around us.
I hope to experience the expression of vulnerability from men more and more, outside my therapy sessions, like my brother’s expression of his own feelings at his wedding. The more examples we have of emotional vulnerability from men, the more acceptable it will become and the more we will come to appreciate and understand the experiences of life through the lens of the male perspective.
~ Caroline, Clinical Therapist
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