08/11/2013 12:20 GMT | Updated 08/11/2013 12:20 GMT

Male Isolation: Why We Need Good, Bad and Ugly Friendships

Male isolation is becoming a major concern in our society. It leads to suicide, depression and mental health issues which are a huge strain on our health and social services. We have large numbers of men living lonely and very fragile existences without the supportive means to change.

Having lived with indigenous people I know this phenomenon is not biological, it is cultural. A man would have to be very determined to isolate himself in such communities, even so the framework of the culture would notice his absence and bring him back in. Here, in our much larger cities no one notices an individual absence and there is no mechanism to bring him back, so, isolation increases exponentially.

A lot of the damage is done in the early years when we teach our boys to stand on their own two feet. I quote Hans Christian Andersen in 'The Ugly Duckling'. His mother says 'Besides, he's a drake: and it doesn't matter so much what he looks like. He is strong and I am sure he will be able to take care of himself.'

This is not good enough. It causes our boys to harden themselves, to disconnect from their emotions, to become tough, and this inevitably leads to isolation.

To combat isolation we need our men to be open and able to share their concerns and emotions with others. To do this they need to create and maintain viable friendship frameworks in which they can be authentic.

Friendship is different from being in a relationship. Couples should (hopefully) be friends, however, a lot of isolated men and women presently live in coupledom. Even a man in a happy and fulfilling relationship still needs friends. Many men don't know this, they have been taught to be 'lone wolves', and so the isolation continues.

For me friendship has a multiplicity of layers, 'the good, the bad and the ugly', and we need all of them.

'Good time' friendships

The superficial friendship most men experience down the pub, during team sports, or similar activities. Summed up by the slurred statement: 'Iiii llloooovvee you, mate'. Which can only ever be expressed after too many pints, makes him feel embarrassed the next morning, and is an exclamation made during the good times. Shared good times are great, but there is more to life.

'Bad time' friendships

A lot of men tell me their best friend is a woman. Typically, they say they are able to confide, and speak more openly about their feelings to women. This is better than the predominantly all male 'good time' friendship. Here the sharing of good and bad times is allowed and encouraged, isolation is therefore diminished.

'Ugly' friendships

I too felt for a long time that I could only confide in women. However, when I attended my first men's conference my life changed. I realised there was another level to sharing and it came from being together with only men. In their company I could be truly 'ugly', express myself in a completely authentic manner. In a group, and on a one to one level, I am still able to confide in the most profound ways with other men. The sharing of my personal shadow is incredibly supportive to my personal development and lessens feelings of isolation. Women have known this for a long time, and the creation of women only groups has led to profound changes in our society.

No man is an island. All of us need to ensure that we have a good diversity of friendships in our lives, it is essential to our mental health. In order to promote this we need to change the negative, hardening messages our boys receive from an early age. 'Be strong, boys don't cry, tough it out, don't show pain, be brave my little soldier, man up, you wuss!'

If we replace them with encouragement, support and loving messages which promote mutual aid, collaboration, not competition we will encourage our boys to become whole men. Their friendships will be started on the positive building blocks of authenticity and honesty, and as a consequence we will be increasing the number of 'ugly' friendships out there.