Men, Mental Health and Violence Prevention

During this time of COVID-19, we would be remiss to not discuss mental health issues and the intricacies around depression, a mental health diagnosis that for many, has operated as a problematic label of which we do not want to be associated. Symptoms of lethargy, decreased motivation and enjoyment, fatigue, persistent sadness, irritability, along with many others are interpreted as signs of weakness instead of signals for compassion, help, and support. The potential of being perceived as someone who does not have their “stuff together” can feel like a death sentence, responded to with shame-riddled language terminating any “good” social position an individual may have in their social groups . Misconceptions around depression and the “types” of people that experience it contribute to invalidating experiences and unsafe spaces, which often creates barriers for many to identify with depression, be receptive to and/or seek assistance for it. BBC news source reported rates around suicide completion gives further insight on the effects of depression.

With all of this, there have been improvements on how we, as a nation, perceive and address mental health issues. We’ve increased awareness campaigns and resources, which has shown for some groups (white female-identified or male-identified, and those holding higher socioeconomic status) a decrease in suicidality. Even in that, when taking into account race and gender identification around present statistics, rates for trans-men and /or black boys/men remain comparatively high. Depression is an issue that can not be sufficiently explored without including our current construct on masculinity into the mix. Imposed and internalized characteristics around masculinities adds further nuance into an already complicated issue. In 2003, author and psychotherapist Terrence Real released a book entitled “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” which beautifully explores the intersection between masculinity and depression.

In the text, Real quotes essayist, Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation;” this speaks to how some of the many character traits we’ve assigned as masculine, such as being emotionally strong, not crying or being sad, and doing it all on your own can limit men-identified folks’ ability to recognize depression within themselves and for others to see it as well. In result, expressions of depression from men-identified folks become covert, making it difficult to connect specific behaviors to an emotional issue, especially when some of those behaviors harm others. Real further invites us to expand our understandings of addictions (substance, alcohol, gambling, and sex) and interpersonal violence (dating, domestic, and sexual assault). Addiction and/or interpersonal violence do not solely occur because of depression and this is an important distinction to note as we continue to grapple with mental health as an integral part of the conversation about prevention and response.

It is essential that we increase awareness on how mental health issues for men identified folks covertly show up and take that into consideration around our violence prevention efforts. Terrence Real, explains that in order for identified mental health issue to be addressed there must be a transition from behaviors that may be covert (gambling, excessive sex, violence, etc) to overt (crying, visible sadness, etc). In order for that to happen as preventionist, educators, advocates, researchers, and clinicians we ourselves must expand our understanding of symptoms and cultivate a culture that safely allows men-identified folks to make such a transition.

Reference:
Herman, J. L., Brown, T. N., & Haas, A. P. (2020, April 09). Suicide Thoughts and Attempts Among Transgender Adults. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/suicidality-transgender-adults/

Real, T. (2003). I don’t want to talk about it: overcoming the secret legacy of male depression. New York: Scribner.

Schumacher, H. (2019, March 18). Why more men than women die by suicide. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190313-why-more-men-kill-themselves-than-women

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