I have been feeling generally uninspired to write over the last week, and the opportunities have been few and far between anyway. I have recently come to the realization that I need true peace and quiet to write anything worth reading. I can’t have my son pulling at my pant leg interrupting or my wife leaning over to see what I am doing. This never used to be, but I have also never put some of my deepest and darkest thoughts into print before either. I have had some moments to peruse different blogs over the past weekend. I spend some time when I can sifting through blogs tagged with depression or anxiety and have found some very good reading that way. This weekend I was finding things a little thin, but I did stumble across one article I found interesting. It was an Australian current events blog that was exploring some very disturbing statistics on male suicide. The writer discovered that 89 countries keep separate statistics on male v. female suicide rates, and that in all but one of these countries men were killing themselves at a faster rate than women, and the average was nearly four male suicides to every female. He had hard numbers for Australia showing a margin greater than 3:1. I can’t say I was surprised, but still the numbers were eye opening, and got me thinking about what it is like to live under the dark cloud of depression and anxiety as a man. The cold hard truth of the matter is that living with these issues as a man presents challenges and requires choices that are extremely difficult.
The author of this article has a decidedly anti feminist stance, and makes no effort to sugar coat that position in his article or in his responses to comments. While his comments are likely to get under the skin of many there is some truth to what he is saying. His general position is that feminism has made it socially acceptable to put down men, and that there has been a massive efforts over the last couple decades to get health information out to women while male health concerns have been largely ignored. As a man I cant help but tend towards agreeing with him in general terms. Modern society has pretty much emasculated men. Masculinity has been targeted as something to be covered over as if it is dirty or dangerous, while at the same time men are portrayed in modern media as bumbling morons in the domestic setting. It is very Ironic to listen to a true feminist complain that TV commercials for products like laundry detergent and dish soap show women being forced into traditional sex roles due to men’s incompetence as if these media clips of women continually coming the rescue of the useless man is somehow more damaging to the female sex than the male. Society’s message to men is to suppress any stereotypical masculine behavior as they can be seen as aggressive and/or unacceptable socially, but don’t try to step too far into the traditional female domain because you are useless there also. It is a confusing time to be a man, and it is a confusing time to be coming of age as a male.
So what’s the point of this little rant? When it comes to depression subtle signals are important. I can take a scowl from my wife and turn it into a catastrophic marital crisis in my head. People with depressive personalities need a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement. It is becoming clear that depression is at least as common in men as women, and society is sending the same dangerous messages to men that are sent to women, but nobody wants to talk about it. Anybody can look at the covers of magazines at the grocery stores and see how the development of a young girl’s sense of self worth could be damaged by the images of “perfect” bodies. It is a problem society talks about. There is no such conversation about the things that society is telling its boys and young men that may be damaging to them. I dare say that many who may read this think this notion is ridiculous, and that only makes my point.
Society tells a man that he cant really be strong and masculine, but he cant be vulnerable either. If you sit on the couch and watch football while your wife cooks dinner you’re a misogynist, but don’t grab the laundry basket to help out because you’ll surely fuck that up. On the other hand when you are in a male dominated setting whether it be a locker room, a male only club, or a male dominated workplace the old rules of masculinity apply fully, and any sign of weakness will be ripped apart, so you better be able to go to that guy place in your brain when you need to. Then in the dating world you may find a woman who has bought in to the feminist message completely, or one who holds on to some more traditional ideas of how men behave. It’s truly schizophrenic
All these mixed signals leave men confused. Society tells us we don’t need to be the strong male, but weaknesses are still seen as a flaw. I find it telling that the vast majority of the blogs I read about depression are written by women. Why is that? Women face judgments for their mental illness, the stigma is strong for everybody, but be a man and say out loud for the whole world to hear that you are scared. You have no reason to be, but you go through your days with this vague sense of unease that can be triggered to downright panic over the slightest thing. Or get them to admit that they live with overriding feelings of sadness or question their self worth. You are not going to get most men to say it. It’s socially, and therefore emotionally, way too dangerous. In the world of maleness it’s not acceptable, and in the larger society, even in this supposed era of men being in touch with their softer side, no wants to hear it either. For those that may be reading this who do suffer from depression and anxiety consider for a moment what it feels like when you are at your lowest and you think nobody cares.
Dealing with depression and anxiety as a man is like walking through a mine field. You never know how the information is going to be received, and society is slowly programming men and women into behaviors that make getting the proper support difficult. Those who have been following this blog may recall that when my tug boating career ended I was accused of misleading my employer about my condition, despite having revealed it openly on yearly company physicals. Nobody gave a shit about the circumstances my “issues” became a convenient scapegoat. Society needs to open their eyes to male depression. When they do they are going to find an epidemic on their hands.
One final thought on the suicide figures in the article that inspired this post. When I first read the 4:1 ratio I couldn’t imagine it was really this bad. The writer implied it was even worse in the United States. Then I began to think about my own experience. From my dining room I can see a bridge that was completed four or five years ago. It is some 130’ above the river it spans and is a regional hot spot for suicide. There have been six jumpers since the bridge was completed. All of them were male, and all but one were “successful” suicides. Now I know that woman stereotypically kill themselves in ways that are less violent, pills, etc, but not a single female jumper? In addition all the suicides that have ever touched my life have been men. I didn’t intend this to become and opinion piece, but one has to ask; why aren’t we talking about this?
Be kind to the men in your life, you never know what may be happening in their heads.