Last week the Open University and the University of Liverpool released new research highlighting the experiences of young men aged 18-30. The findings suggest this group face rigid stereotypes and feel trapped inside a claustrophobic ‘man box’ of expectations and social norms. This research probably comes as little surprise to many. However, it was something I had been reflecting on a lot recently and confirmed some conversations I’d be having around this issue with family and friends. How can we challenge this idea that men shouldn’t talk about their emotional difficulties or mental ill-health?
This research comes at a particularly pertinent time for Renaisi, given our recent research done by Tessa Horvath about the relationship between mental health and employment, and the subsequent event on Mental Health and Work: what’s gender got to do with it? This event highlighted higher reported rates of anxiety and depression in women, but higher suicide rates and lower self-referrals to mental health professionals in men. When considered in the context of increasing male suicide rates during times of economic recession, this highlights the need for these stereotypes to be broken down.
Whilst this new academic research does not offer any answers, it connects with international research on the issue, highlighting the need for a holistic approach to tackling it. The research concludes that the media and schools, but also family, friends and partners all have a part to play in breaking down these stereotypes and rigid ideas of masculinity. There are some innovative groups working to do this, such as the Great Initiative and Working with Men who were both present at our recent event. However, reflecting on this I hope day to day we can all move forward in helping to break down the ‘man box’ so many young men feel trapped within.
Some saw admitting to emotional problems as a sign of weakness. One spoke of dealing with mental health issues by “disconnecting myself a lot from other people, because I thought that was the manly thing to do”. Others admitted that they found it difficult to express their feelings and were reluctant to seek help when distressed. One said: “Men, we just deal with it differently … we’ve got other channels of expressing our feelings.” Others admitted that if they were having problems they would just “bottle it up and get on with it” or even “turn it into a bit of a joke”.