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Dealing with mental health in men: Depression knows no macho!

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There is a widespread misconception that a man should be strong for everyone else. And so he is, always shielding, protecting and trying to ensure that everyone else is fine, often times, at his own expense. It is often too easy to pay attention to the physical outlook and forget what is going on in the head. Men run a high risk of sinking into unimaginable lows when their mental health is not kept in check.

A perfect example of the depths to which a poor mental health can sink a man is seen in the life of entrepreneur and mental health survivor, Prithviraj Manik Chowdhury. He experienced severe challenges in life that devastated his mental health leaving him a shadow of himself. His story is one that shows how societal opinions can negatively affect a man’s self esteem and ultimately, his mental health.

Men are often subjects of societal validations and when those validations are absent, a poor mental health is inevitable. This is very evident in the story of Chowdhury’s, who quoted paternal issues and severe skin conditions as the beginning of his declining mental health. “I have had rough childhood. My father left us when we were very young. My mother remarried. My step father was loving but he couldn’t provide for us. So, I and my brother grew up with our grandfather, who was a father to us. I also had chronic acne for over a decade and was single for a long time. I started to doubt myself. My face got scarred over time and I actually started feeling low about myself. I got into smoking, weed and alcohol. As pressure mounted heavily, I began to consider suicide. The toxic substances couldn’t provide the answers I needed and taking my life seemed like the only way out.”

Luckily, Chowdhury had his mother by his side throughout the phase. He emotionally noted, “The first hurdle you have to overcome to fix your mental health is acceptance, accepting your insecurities is the only way to deal with them. My mother, long time ago, handed me a book, called ‘The Auto Biography of a Yogi’ and it changed my life forever. A path of a yogi is that of the brave. It’s a book about kriya yoga and meditation. Yoga means union – the union of body, mind and soul. I started doing kriya yoga but I did it in anticipation of a miracle, however it led me to something much deeper and saved my life.”

Chowdhury tried knowing and loving himself, and he eventually realised there were many other things in life to be happy about. “I am now a proud and contented man with several gold medals in national karate championships. I am living my dreams and following by passions as an entrepreneur, and also found the love of my life. I still have my scars but it doesn’t affect me anymore,” Chowdhury smiled, as he expressed his feelings.

The World Health Organisation ran a study in 2018, and found that the ratio of men to women that die by suicide is three to one. This further buttresses the fact that men are the most likely to experience life threatening effects of depression which stems from poor mental health. Mental Health America, a non-profit organisation recently released a revealing statistic showing that a staggering six million men in the United States suffer from extreme depression yearly.

In India, it is slightly worse. A staggering fifteen per cent of all cases of mental health problems in the world is in our country, and men constitute a significant portion of that number. All these and more are testaments to the fact that all year round men are the most victims of poor mental health. Surprisingly, women are more likely to receive mental health support than men according to several sources.

If men are the ones suffering the most from poor mental health, how come they get the least support? Madhusmita Adhyapak, a Mumbai-based academician and mental health therapist, attempts to provide clarity to this conundrum. She says, “In extreme depression cases, family members are often the ones to bring the victims to mental health professionals when they notice symptoms. However, most men do not readily open up about issues relating to their mental health so the problem is left unchecked.”

Men are often emotional pillars in the various units of the society. Very rarely do they open up about issues that may pose problems to their mental health. In the few cases where they do, they are met with certain societal opinions about how they should be “strong” and “manly”. How then are we to tackle the societal stigma?

Societal stigma on mental health

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The major reason why depression results in suicide is because the victims do not seek help. Men who are victims of extreme depression fight these battles by themselves and more often than not, they lose. Why do they keep important matters such as a deteriorating mental health to themselves? It is mainly because of how the society perceives men who are conscious about their mental health.

Alex Tensubam, a certified engineer from Manipur, struggled with depression for about eight years. On the subject of sharing his challenge with people, Tensubam says,”Friends and family despised me when I needed them the most.” Tensubam’s friends pointed out he was exhibiting feminine characteristics when he sought help in dealing with his depression.

How do men handle these stigmas?

Men often experience stigma from mental health, especially when they try to talk about it or seek help, and this is often worse than the depression itself. Adhyapak says the only way to tackle this is by enlightenment and education. Stigma is as a result of ignorance and not until people understand the effect of stigma on the victims, there won’t be any improvement.

In addition to enlightening the public on the dangers of stigmatising poor mental health victims, mental health counsellor and psychologist, Sanjeevani Goswami, has some suggestions on how she thinks this stigma could be addressed. Goswami says that more male psychologists need to be involved in support groups for people struggling with mental health. Men often find it difficult to communicate the “male related” problems affecting their mental health to female psychologists and, as a result, keep the problems to themselves. There is also the need for teachers and parents to be at the forefront in the battle against stereotypes associated with gender roles. Furthermore, empathising with victims of deteriorating mental health is crucial. It is important to listen to their story and at the end recommend a competent psychologist or psychiatrist for professional help. Finally, she says that talks on mental health should be for everyone at home. No gender should be left out.

In the end, the mind is a very delicate abstract part of the human body and is often affected by a number of factors. A man’s poor mental health has nothing to do with his physical strength as a man. It is, therefore, important that society pays close attention to men and abstain from expecting men to be indestructible, physically and mentally.

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