There is a suicide epidemic in our culture, and young men are by far the biggest victims. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, with suicide being the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Despite these horrific facts, it appears to me that our culture either has little grasp on the causes of this issue, or refrains from honestly examining the phenomena by using overly simplistic platitudes to explain the crisis. The aim of this article is to delve down the rabbit-hole of male pain, depression and suicide, as I offer some of my theories on not only why I believe this issue is so misunderstood, but also why people would rather turn their heads away from the issue than plainly stare at the brutal reality of the situation. This is by no means an exhaustive analysis, and I feel writing this might inspire me write subsequent follow up articles on the topic. But for now, I hope this post alone will serve as a catalyst for some much-needed discussion on the topic…
Like almost all politics nowadays, but especially gender politics, there are two opposing camps fighting to the death to prove their stance is correct. Both repeatedly slinging evidence at each other to support their position, without any appreciation for the nuance that this complex issue demands. Feminists trash Men’s rights activists. Men’s rights activists trash feminism. Unfortunately, the debate from both sides has become somewhat of a sibling rivalry than an open exchange of ideas. It strikes me that most gender activists would rather win an argument against their opponents than actually work together to establish a solution to the complex answers to the issue of male pain. Such a widespread epidemic cannot be reduced to sloppy, ideological rational and petty squabbling. There are men and boys that need our help, and resorting to tribalism will not find a solution to the problem.
How are men and boys supposed to talk about their feelings, when there’s no one there to listen?
Whenever we hear about a tragic male celebrity suicide, like Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, there is a outpouring of discussion on social media. It temporarily appears that the societal stigma is being dismantled, and people finally begin to attempt to analyse the underlying reasons behind why these men have been driven to take such devastating action. Unfortunately, this compassion is fleeting, and discussion usually dies out when the next social media trending topic becomes popular. It soon becomes clear that the abundance of support was little more than virtual signalling. Behind the Facebook platitudes and hashtags, it becomes clear that little help actually exists. All male suicide is tragic, but if the discussion only takes place when famous men take their own lives, we are doing a disservice to the regular working man. The man who doesn’t receive hashtags and vigils. To make matters worse, there are limited outlets for men to go to get help. Organisations like Samaritans and Calm exist, but they are few and far between. Our culture tells boys and men that they need to talk about their feelings more, whilst providing limited resources for them to actually do this.
Men’s fear of vulnerability
A commonly held cultural belief as to why men are reluctant to express their feelings is a social constructionist argument, that states men are brought up in a society that actively shames and demonises the idea of them talking openly about how they feel emotionally. This is certainly a contributing factor to the problem. The ‘provider and protector’ role is an out-dated and damaging narrative, and often leaves men with an overbearing sense of responsibility for ensuring they are strong and fearless at all times. Having the vulnerability to openly admit they are struggling would dismantle the provider role and putting men in a state of dependency, which would result in a death of an identity that the wider society encourages for men to adopt. Big boys don’t cry. Man up. These pervasive epithets may often be uttered in a tongue and cheek manner, but the destruction that they can cause to a man’s inner world is far from satirical. It can leave them bottling up their emotions, feeding the covert depression that is all too common in the lives of many men. Militant stoicism and self restraint can be a slippery slope, and only feed male depression.
The above theory does indeed have a lot of truth to it, correctly identifying a problem that exists on a large scale. However, I think this is as far as mainstream culture goes in terms of an accurate assessment of the problem. When we start to look at the dominant thought on men’s position in society, I think we have failed men and boys. From this point onwards, the debate spirals into ideologically fuelled analysis that not only fails to address the problem, but actively takes part in its prolongation.