"Before men found out how to control fire and put it to work, it was man's greatest enemy. In much the same way, emotions can be your own greatest enemy, for under control, your emotions can make you healthier and happy." Go back 65 years and this would be the opening statement of a Coronet film you may have watched on your television set.
Yes, in 1950 this short film titled Control Your Emotions was intended to set a precedent regarding how one should suppress emotion.
Since then, we have come so far in a great many ways. We have landed on the moon, discovered a vaccination for smallpox, abolished the Jim Crow laws across the US, and have finally nearly closed the gender pay gap in the UK, with it currently being the smallest difference to date. We live in a world of technology where we are encouraged to express ourselves through the latest smartphone or platform of 'finger-tip media'.
Thankfully, present day society has, for the better part, grown to recognise the importance of expressing our feels and beliefs. Just head over to Youtube and you'll be presented with a plethora of personalities, all equally given the right to share their views with the world. Our freedom of speech laws entitle all genders, sexualities and races an equal say. For the most part, this is a good thing. How would Coronet Films cope with Twitter and Instagram? I dread to think.
Surely then, having the means to easily express ourselves at the touch of a button must mean that we are by far the generation who feel most comfortable in talking about our struggles and emotions? With this considered, I ask you two questions: firstly, why is suicide the single biggest killer for men between age 18 and 45, and secondly, if the rate of female suicide is significantly falling, why isn't it for us men? Despite traffic collisions and an array of deadly diseases, suicide is still claiming more male lives than both. Yes, us men account for three quarters of all suicides in the United Kingdom. The statistics are quite frankly shocking. Data collected by Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), showed that in 2014, there was an average of 12 male suicides every single day. That's alarming in itself, but what's equally concerning for me is the fact that these statistics have barely improved in 30 years. According to the World Health Organisation, in 1985, 12 out of every 100,000 males ended their own life, in comparison to today's figure of an average of 11 out of 100,000 (found by Samaritans).
Frankly, the question we need to ask is 'why'? Why are we still so far behind in recognising this male issue and not working together to save more lives? A single life saved is obviously a step in the right direction, but this step feels somewhat minuscule to me when recognising that a male life was still taken every 120 minutes in the same year of 2014 (CALM). I ask you this: with regards to today's societal view of a stereotypical man, has much changed at all since the 50's? It sounds stupid doesn't it? But it's quite literally killing us.
Nowadays we may sometimes stray from the Queen's English and drop our 't's', or realise that smoking can kill us, but the truth is, whether conscious of it or not, the society we live in still adopts many of these obviously - or perhaps sadly not so obviously - outdated gender constructs. The whole notion of the man of the house being the family 'bread winner' still stands. A huge section of men still feel the immense pressure to provide, and guilt when they can't. Failing to do so consequently feels degrading or makes them feel 'less of a man'. Men are embarrassed to admit when they have taken a knock, physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally too. Why is this?
For me, I believe this process starts from a very early age. During school, boys are taught the mindset that 'big boys don't cry' when they fall over in the playground. The strongest boys tend to shine through and earn their seat at the table of popularity. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I was older at age eight, I would've said a fireman or soldier. If I ask you which characteristics you typical associate with these professions, what would you say? Burly? Courageous? Muscly? A younger me would've said they were big, brave and strong. At age eight, I didn't know too much about maths, English or what the capital of Iceland was, but in my mind, I knew that in order to achieve my dreams I needed to be strong and brave.
How is this relevant though? Well, I argue that that the desire to be big, strong and brave constitutes what 'being a man' is for many. Failing to be strong at a school sports day could result in a boy being told he 'throws like a girl', or to 'man up' if a partner breaks up with him through his teenage years. A great deal of the time, guys are automatically victimised by their peers when they fall beneath the waist line of expectation. Consequently, many boys grow up feeling embarrassed about appearing 'weak' - we've all heard it in the movies or the proverbial changing room, "If anyone asks I broke up with her, okay?", "I'm a big boy, I can handle myself". Many strive to avoid being seen as victims.
I believe that this mindset of avoiding to be seen as weak continues into adulthood. It's that old saying: 'Keep Calm and Carry On'. However, the problem is that a great majority of men simply can't 'keep calm', and it's not as easy as that. The pressure they feel to appear to everyone around them that they're 'okay' and 'in control' of their lives, despite what's really going on beneath the skin can have massive repercussions. Feeling embarrassed, many men turn inwards, persevering through marital breakdowns, redundancies and financial issues alone through fear of tainting their reputation as 'a man'. As we've seen, this facade of appearing emotionless on the outside, trying to cling to that 'bread winner' stereotype, can lead to severe outcomes. Men are struggling to openly express themselves and therefore are turning inwards into a spiral of regressive repression.
As men, we do not need to 'control our emotions' in order to be 'healthy and happy'. Our emotions are not our enemy. We should embrace them. In order to be truly happy and healthy we must first realise that it's okay to not 'be okay'. As humans, we should feel equal in emotion, for emotion has no gender. We should also be comfortable in acknowledging and accepting that emotion is normal. As a man, I should feel free to express my feelings on my own terms, and not in a way that society wants me to. Only when we recognise and dismantle the societal gender constructs that still exist to this day, which inhibit how men express themselves, will we truly be able to effectively tackle the deeply concerning male suicide statistic.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
To blog for Building Modern Men, email email@example.com. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here
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