19th November marks International Men’s Day, yet around the world, a crisis in masculinity is being observed. Here in the UK, suicide remains the single biggest killer of men aged under 45. The solution lies in helping men learn to truly care for themselves.
Last month, whilst standing in a queue, I got talking to a fascinating woman called Helen. She had travelled all the way from Australia to attend a week-long course to help her launch her own podcast channel. The topic of Helen’s podcast is masculinity. Her motivation comes from compassion for the crisis in masculinity that is being observed in Australia. On any given week, it is estimated that around 45 men in Australia will take their own lives. The rate of suicide has increased in the country by 10 per cent on last year. So, it is of no surprise that Australia is home to the organisation behind International Men’s Day – which takes place on 19th November each year – and aims to, “Give hope to the depressed and create a more caring humanity.”
Here in the UK, the statistics for men’s mental health look similarly bleak. According to an NHS psychiatric survey carried out in 2014, in England, around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem, such as depression, and men accounted for around 75% of the nearly 6,500 suicides recorded in the UK in 2018.
Some believe this crisis is taking place because of the changing expectations that men perceive are placed on them. On the one hand, they still feel the need to display the traditional characteristics of strong, stoic breadwinners; on the other hand, the 21st century is all about equality and political correctness. This is coupled with what media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff, calls ‘present shock’ – a human response that both men and women suffer as the digital world relentlessly tries to grab our attention, to the point of it being overwhelming.
Helen, who has received criticism in Australia for wanting to talk about challenges to masculinity, is concerned about the rise in domestic violence towards women by men, which has also increased in frequency. For her, domestic violence and suicide are two sides to the same coin: two expressions of a common underlying issue. I tend to agree with Helen. I have witnessed severely depressed men express their struggle in a multitude of ways – from shutting themselves away to lashing out, or a combination of the two.
So what’s the solution? The advice from International Men’s Day organisers is close to my own heart: making healthy lifestyle choices a priority. This advice goes deeper than just diet and exercise. For all humans, not just men, being truly healthy relies on a balance of several ingredients mixed together in the right recipe before a person’s mental health can improve. Getting plenty of rest, enjoying good relationships, being able to express how we feel in a safe environment and building emotional resilience are equally important.
The first step is to help create a safe environment for men to open up and talk about how they feel. Here in Peterborough, a new Men’s Circle is being created to do just that. A space to hear how other men have struggled as well as to try new skills and activities that will help them learn more about ‘who they are’. It offers a chance to redefine for themselves what masculinity means in the 21st century.
Every era in human history appears to have unique opportunities and challenges. The 21st century is no exception. The skills needed for men to thrive or even just survive today are different than the skills that were needed 50 years ago. Of course, International Men’s Day cannot suddenly make everything fine through one day of action, but by encouraging the cultivation of healthy experiences and habits over time, it’s possible for men to mould themselves a new and more nourishing experience of life.
For more information about International Men’s Day www.internationalmensday.info
If you are interested in helping establish the new Peterborough Men’s Circle please contact firstname.lastname@example.org