By: Neshanth Shanmugalingam, Director Mental Health Services, SAAAC
Because I am a man, I cannot show any weakness.
Because I am a man, I cannot ask others for help.
Because I am a man, I cannot cry.
Because I am a man, I cannot talk about my feelings.
My name is Neshanth Shanmugalingam, and I am the Director of Mental Health Services at the SAAAC Autism Centre. Over the past few years, we have noticed that many of the fathers who attended our Parent Programming at SAAAC would often hold back from expressing themselves, they would hold back from talking about their feelings/emotions, and often build a shield to mask any hardships they were facing. Because of this, we created the SAAAC CARES Program. This program happens in a group-based setting that is run by volunteer counselors. The program was designed in a way to spur conversation amongst our participants and normalize mental health issues.
When we conducted these group sessions with the fathers at SAAAC, the previously mentioned thoughts were the most common themes that were brought up. During the first few sessions, they sat back and laughed at the thought of opening up and talking to someone about their emotional state. “Men don’t suffer from depression.” “Men don’t have feelings.” “Real men don’t ask for help.”
As time went on, they shared the idea that these things have been instilled in them. They were taught at a young age that specific qualities defined a man. Only if you were a tough guy who didn’t show or talk about emotions, were you successfully living up to that word- a man.
Especially for males brought up in Eastern cultures, their views have been shaped and molded over years of observing and listening to others. For them, their sole purpose in life is to provide for their family. They are taught that their family cannot survive without them giving their all. Taking care of their wives and children is something that brings great pride to them. However, taking care of their own personal wellbeing, that is a concept that doesn’t exist. That is unheard of.
We have instilled and expectation within our culture in which men must be tough, they must be strong. A quick google search of the word “masculinity” will show words like strength, aggressiveness, powerful, manly. According to that logic, it’s very simple: If you need help, if you show a momentary lapse in strength, you are not masculine enough.
Over time, the pressure to live up to the expectations becomes unbearable. Whenever a stressful situation occurs, men cannot be perceived as “weak” or “unmanly” by the people around them. Rather than seeking help for their mental health concerns or simply talking to someone about how they are feeling, many individuals then resort to alcohol/substance abuse.
When comparing mental health issues to other health issues like pneumonia or a broken leg, why is it that men are comfortable seeking help for that? Men’s mental health is not only a health issue, but it is also a social issue. There needs to be a shift in society’s views. Awareness needs to increase in order to reduce the stigma attached to men’s mental health. Men also need to be encouraged to talk more openly about the issues they struggle with.
Research shows that mental health illnesses are the most common risk factors for suicide; and that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental health disorder.1,2 Data also shows that amongst Canadians, males are three times more likely to commit suicide than females.3 Mental health illnesses are common, and it doesn’t make sense as to why it is a silent crisis for men. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be.
In the last sessions of our counselling program, the atmosphere and tone was very different. The fathers were no longer mocking feelings and depression. They acknowledge that mental health issues can have an impact on anyone. They are better able to identify stress and use more effective coping mechanisms to calm themselves down. Their beliefs are finally starting to change.
I am a man, I can show weakness.
I am a man, I can ask for help.
I am a man, I can cry.
I am a man, I can talk about my feelings.
Weir E. Suicide: The hidden epidemic. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2001;165(5):634.
Mo?cicki EK. Epidemiology of completed and attempted suicide: Toward a framework for prevention. Clinical Neuroscience Research. 2001;1:310-23.
Navaneelan, T. (2017). Suicide rates: An overview. [online] Statistics Canada. Available at: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].