This week (13-19th May 2019) is Mental Health Awareness Week (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week) and it seems like a day doesn’t go by without something in the news or our social media timelines about mental health. We are facing a mental health epidemic and it can affect you regardless of gender, affluence, race, age, location or working status. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of wellbeing reflecting an ability to cope with day to day difficulties, realise and achieve potential, and contribute to communities. We will be covering wider mindfulness issues in another blog but for this I’d like to focus on the male of the species.
I felt compelled to write this blog after a comment on a national radio station following the Champions League semi-finals. Both Spurs and Liverpool managed, against all odds, to progress to the Champions League final. The radio commentator, referring to the very visible emotional reaction of some players and staff used the phrase ‘grown men in tears’.
Tears of Joy
We shouldn’t live in an age where broadcasters are mentioning tearful men as something out of the ordinary. There shouldn’t be any inference that because you are a fully-grown man it is an exception worthy of mention if you choose to cry. Regardless of what club allegiances you have, anyone with empathy would find it hard not to be moved by the emotional outpouring of Pochettino or Milner. I certainly didn’t think of them both as lesser men, I genuinely respect them for embracing and not hiding their emotions.
This is in the wider context of mental health and suicide being the most common cause of death for men aged 29-49 in England and Wales. Broadcaster comments are demonstrating that we have a long way to go if we are to fundamentally change societal attitudes to ‘maleness’. My focus on males is in no way denigrating the societal issues we have in relation to females or any other group for that matter. The point here is that we as a society, need to throw away the notion that crying (and generally talking about our worries) is seen as a form of weakness, and this seems to be particularly the case for men. It is these male gender stereotypes that pander to the idea that being silent and maintaining that stiff upper lip is an attractive (or acceptable) trait. Crying is an expression of emotion and should be seen as a demonstration of being emotionally developed, at ease with one’s emotions, not a sign of weakness or lack of manliness. According to a 2018 YouGov survey, 55% of men aged 18-24 feels as if crying makes them less masculine.
The Generation Game
Crying is one physical manifestation of emotion but the wider issue at play is that of talking openly about issues. Men unfortunately have a tendency to bottle things up. Of course, bottling things up has been going on for generations of males. I never remember my Grandpa crying or really showing any emotion in front of me. That could be how Grandpa’s are meant to be in front of their grandchildren, maintaining a stiff upper lip regardless. I have witnessed my father cry a number of times, usually linked to loss of a loved one, but he is as guilty as any in terms of bottling things up. Perhaps it’s a feeling of not wanting to burden people with your problems? I have cried in front of my father a number of times, we have cried together, and on one occasion, subjected him to a full-blown wail. It certainly surprised me, and must have scared the living daylights out of him. I felt much better after releasing all that raw emotion.
The recent radio commentary highlighted crying but it’s about being open with yourself and with other people. Have you ever felt like the world is against you, and in the moment you cannot cope with what life throws at you? This feeling may go in an instant, and everyone has different ways of coping. Bottling your feelings up is certainly not a solution. I am lucky as I have a close circle of really good family and friends who I can trust if I need to express emotion or ‘vent’.
With a son of my own I am playing an active part in getting him to share his feelings and that no matter what these feelings are they are better out than in, as the old adage goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. We owe it to future generations of males to ensure that we open up, rather than ‘man up’.
Author: Steve Halsall, Director, Red Tiger Consulting