About male mental health
October is Mental Health Awareness Month. This article deals with the socialisation of males and their mental health. It is written by Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, clinical psychologist/ senior lecturer, UTT and President-Elect of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists.
Many persons fail to recognise that poor mental health is a real issue and does not discriminate on the basis of age or gender. In Trinidad and Tobago, the culture of the society influences gender roles to a large extent.
Gilligan (1996) notes that there are differences in the way that females and males define themselves in relation to others, and that gendered differences exist in the way that individuals think of this responsibility: for example, males have to be strong, focused and assertive, and females as caring, compassionate and emotional.
A local anthropologist who works with young males in ‘hot-spot’ localities in Trinidad affirms that these ‘stereotypes’ exist as he has stated that boys are socialised not to display emotion or to talk about their feelings, but to ‘put on a façade…a bravado…and not to articulate their trauma’.
Many islands in the Caribbean face a similar dilemma of socialised male gender roles. In Jamaican society, Gordon (2016) notes that ‘the socialisation of men in our country places tremendous pressure on them to continuously reinforce their masculinity in ways that are actually toxic and self-destructive. They are not allowed to be expressive or depressed, but they are allowed however to be angry’.
Violence is continually portrayed as the masculine way of conflict resolution. These views are also applicable to the socialisation of our boys and men in Trinidad and Tobago.
Masculine roles where emotions are neither displayed nor expressed, and crying, being expressive and open about their emotions, are heavily discouraged. Such things are definitely feminine traits; instead, [males] must be unshakable in the face of adversity (Gordon, 2016).
Rowling (2003) agrees that gender can be a significant disenfranchising issue for young males in schools and uncertain about their identities, they can be greatly influenced by the confining behaviours of perceived masculine patterns. This inability or lack of desire to display emotion and talk about the significance of issues, has effects on their general mental health and well-being, and can hinder general academic performance and relationships.
How then, does gender socialisation impact mental health in our society, with an emphasis on male suicide which has become an increasing statistic in recent years? Research shows that globally, even though more women are involved in acts of parasuicide (attempts at suicide) each year, figures reveal that twice as many men complete suicide when compared to women.
Males are more likely to use violent or lethal methods as these are more congruent with the dominant constructions of masculinity that view males as aggressive and ‘macho’. The psychological costs can be significant and may lead to higher risks for suicide when males dismiss their health-care needs, do not ask for help or try to figure out their continuing and debilitating mental and physical problems on their own.
Until quite recently, the relationship between suicidal behaviour and men’s gender – or masculinities – has largely been taken for granted or marginalised (Payne et al, 2006). The construction of masculinities therefore, is one of the most important factors which influence suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviours.
An understanding of ‘gender’ and the ways in which behaviours are enacted would provide a guide to what men and women consider ‘acceptable’ role behaviours that conform to social conventions and norms.
In Western societies, as in the Caribbean, there is considerable social pressure for men to endorse and adopt gendered identities such as being independent, strong and competitive, while also denying their anxieties and insecurities.
Gordon (2016) asserts that we must allow our boys and men to be human; hiding depression is not brave. It is only toxic and destructive. It should be okay for [males] to feel depressed and vulnerable, without feeling as though their masculinity has been compromised.
Working with male and female adolescents in group therapy sessions, I have found that males tend to take a longer time to ‘warm up’ within the groups and to talk about issues than their female counterparts, and many venture to talk only when they feel they can ‘trust’ the group; if not, they remain emotionally withdrawn and rigid.
‘Males only’ groups therefore are not to be regarded as sexist but are a recognition that masculinities and the pre-conceived notions of being male, are important to boys and men and that they prefer to discuss certain topics within this frame of reference.
Until and unless the wider society addresses these stereotypes, it seems unfair and unwise to ignore that they exist. Dr Nakhid-Chatoor may be contacted via email:MNCpsych17@gmail.com