Male mental health deserves more attention

For progress, men need to openly share their distress

Sicilia argues men need a safe space to discuss emotional distress.
Supplied by Victoria Sicilia.

Mental health is important to all of us. However, when it comes to males, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There’s a real lack of attention paid to men who leave their emotions unattended and unexpressed. It’s imperative that we address this issue.

The most common narrative is women are overly expressive and men are tough and emotionless. But that doesn’t mean men are immune to mental health issues: according to a 2017 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men die by way of suicide at 3.54 times the rate of women.

It took me 15 years to discover a man close to me was on antidepressants, while two others were treated for anxiety. A male friend of mine attempted suicide and, just recently, a former classmate tragically took his own life. 

These experiences revealed to me the damage of societal pressure to discourage men from talking about their suffering. We need to start taking mental health awareness seriously and have discussions in safe and open spaces where those affected can talk freely and comfortably about their problems without fear of judgement.

There’s overwhelming barriers facing men discussing their suffering. This stigma is widespread and damaging. According to Canada Public Health, for instance, 90 per cent of people with anxiety take prescription medication for their disorders while only 20 per cent seek psychological treatment.

From my experience, male friendship circles generally aren’t a space where individuals feel comfortable to say they’re struggling. Societal pressures come in different forms, and men conduct themselves in ways to avoid being perceived as weak by their peers.  

These pressures transfer into the workplace, where employers fail to place emphasis on the strain of high-pressured jobs and their employees’ mental health concerns. While the federal government contributes funding to mental health initiatives and supports constructive movements like Bell Let’s Talk, it fails to provide every citizen with the basic health coverage necessary to see a therapist or mental health specialist.

People are looking for outlets to address their mental health issues; they simply aren’t given the adequate resources or attention. We tend towards meditation, self-help books, and sleep-analysis gadgets because we're hungry to learn why we're sad, anxious, and stressed. Without help from the federal government, institutions and employers, this culture of silent suffering will only get worse. 

I see a therapist, and I’ve told my entire social, academic and employment network about it. I’m writing this with hopes that people understand it’s okay to not only see a therapist but also admit to and comfortably talk about seeing a therapist. 

If we feel uneasy discussing our issues or hearing someone else’s, we’re contributing to the problem.

Between you and me, at least one of us is suffering, or know someone who’s suffering. If this is one of our most common similarities, we must question why it's so uncommon to talk about it comfortably. 

If you look around your closest circle, there’s someone you know who’s suffering from depression or anxiety, and it’s even more likely that person isn’t talking about it. People are suffering alone, and we must start questioning why mental health issues are kept quiet.

There needs to be systemic and measured change in how we create spaces for men to express their pain or loneliness. Men feeling the need to withhold emotional distress is fundamentally damaging and the aforementioned statistics prove that. 

Changing these statistics starts with a collective effort. By encouraging the invisible to become visible—by simply creating a safe space to talk—we can defeat the stigma surrounding mental health. 

Victoria Sicilia is a Doctoral Candidate in Queen’s Cultural Studies Interdisciplinary Program.

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