How Changing our Language Gives Men a Voice
We live in a World that promotes men being strong. One where emotion is seen as a weakness. Something that doesn’t get spoken about. And partnered up with our British stiff upper lip, it is no wonder, men don’t feel like they can talk about their struggles.
The Culture we live in
Well the truth is that this ideology is killing them. Men are 3 times more likely to suicide than women, despite women being twice as likely to suffer with depression than men. The stats just don’t add up!
For me, it suggests two things. Either men are not coming forward when they are struggling and therefore the numbers should actually be far higher than is being recorded. Or maybe, by women coming forward, they are far more likely to receive the right help at the right time and thereby reducing the risk to take their own life. Either way, it’s not good for men!
Why do men still feel like they have no voice?
But the culture is changing. Now more than ever, people are finding a way to express themselves. New ways to identify who they are and speak their truth to the World. And yet still this is a battle we are not winning. Why do men still feel like they have no voice? Why can’t men talk out about their mental health?
Well therein lies part of the problem. We constantly push this message that men CAN’T talk out about their mental health. We think we are being supportive. Standing with them in their pain. Giving them empathy for the barriers that they stand against. Wishing there was a different way.
Just think about it for a moment. What message does that really give? That they are not in control. That they have no control over the situation. That this is something they can’t change. That it is bigger than them.
Essentially, this suggests that society sees them as a victim.
Ditching the ‘Victim’ Label
In recent years there has been a powerful shift to shake off this ‘Victim’ label. Nobody ever wants to be pitied, regardless of whether it is with all best intentions. When someone leaves an abusive relationship, we say they are a survivor of domestic abuse. The same is often said for people who have been raped; they become a survivor of sexual abuse. And with these labels come courage, bravery and empowerment. Nobody wants to be a victim.
So why is society pushing this label onto men?
The truth is, the language we use has power. The ability to build someone up or knock them down. And I don’t understand why this shift in semantics has not made its way to the issue of men’s mental health.
So I am writing this article in the hope to be part of the change that I want to see. Before we naively stand in what we think to be support, let’s first think about the words we use.
Talking about Mental Health is a Choice
It is not that men can’t talk about their mental health. It’s instead, as a rule, actually more a case that men, don’t talk about their mental health. It is a choice. It is their choice. It is each individual’s choice. Just as it is for every woman.
And don’t get me wrong, I would love for that to be different. I would love for men and women to feel they were in a safe space to open up and talk about what is on their mind. And I know, I for one, would sit with them, non-judgmentally, and listen. I would give them a voice and I would let them be heard. As I know, so many other people would too. Including a lot of other men.
Mental health does not discriminate in who it affects. Chances are when you talk to others about your own struggles, you will be surrounded by so many other people that are facing their own. This is not something anybody has to suffer alone.
But suffering alone, is a choice. And it is a choice we all have the right to make. And it is choice that empowers us. It is choice that moves you back into a position of control. Because ultimately, if you choose not to share your struggles with others, there is always the choice to change that. A choice you can make, when and if you feel ready. Society has not taken that choice away from you!
Suffering alone is a choice
And I know it’s hard to face the fear of speaking out. How will your message be received? Will people see you differently? Will you be seen as weak?
That is a risk that everybody with mental health issues face, not just men. So I ask you, if it was a friend that came to you and spoke about their struggles, would you think those things? Or would you be pleased they trusted you enough to reach out for support? I know for me, I would much rather a friend trust me with their pain than face it alone and feel their only escape is to take their own life. I don’t think I am alone in that.
As a society, we seem desperate to let men know that is it OK to not be OK. We have more and more influential figures speaking out on their own struggles to encourage others. Men that made that choice. Men that were brave and told the World that they know how it feels like to not be ok. The likes of Harry, the former Duke of Sussex, The Rock, Stephen Fry and Freddie Flintoff to name a few.
And then you get the list of other influential men whose silence spoke out in volume. The men whose silence became so loud it shocked the World. The likes of Robin Williams, Avecii and Keith Flint. The people who did not find their voice. Hugely popular. Hugely successful. And yet in a crowded room of people that adore them, they must have felt so alone.
So let’s empower men to make their choice. Let’s change the message from can’t to don’t. Let’s support them in their choices, whatever they may be, and hope that one day soon we will be able to change our language once again to, they can!
If you are a man struggling with your mental health. In fact, if you are anybody struggling with your mental health. Know you have a choice. Know that a World is waiting to hear your story. Know that the people that love you, would far rather hear your voice, than be deafened by your silence.
So I ask you all, to stand with me, standing with men. Show your support. Give them a voice. Make sure they know the decision on whether they speak out, sits with them and not with society.