Let’s use Movember to validate male feelings of vulnerability

80% of suicides in Malta in 2022 involved men. It’s time we encourage young men and boys to express their feelings.

We are almost through Movember, an initiative that started off using moustaches as a  symbol for men’s physical health, turned into an international symbol for championing men’s overall health including psychological health.

When it comes to mental health in men, there are important conversations to be held. With 80% of suicides involving men, men’s mental health also needs to be appraised in the wider context of toxic masculinity.

As a man do you believe you are to be strong for yourself and your loved ones? If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘most of the time’ know that the expectation to stay strong simply means taking a longer time to realise you are struggling on a psychological level and when you do realise, you are likely to expect yourself to overcome it on your own.

Here, I’d like to make the analogy of waiting for a fracture to heal on its own without any medical input. One appreciates that if you’ve been brought up to see expression of emotions as a sign of weakness, as an adult it is not easy to act against deeply ingrained beliefs. Without wanting to make any sweeping statements, it is true that men are more likely to engage in avoidant behaviours, even when they do realise that what in fact they are dealing with, is a mental health problem. In fact, men are particularly vulnerable to social isolation which is often a risk factor in suicide.

Initiatives like Movember offer the opportunity to talk to your team members about mental health and establish a caring working environment. At Psychology in Practice, we encourage you to use these three simple ways to use Movember as a platform for championing mental health and facilitate a context where everyone feels as comfortable talking about issues around emotional and psychological health as they would when disclosing having a backache or a headache.

  1. Introduce psychological health check-ins: Establish a space where people can safely express how they are doing on an emotional level. Just like the regular GP checkup gives you the opportunity to identify any habits that need to be altered to maintain your physical health on track, the same can be done for our mental health. Be mindful that because of stigma people might not readily express how they are feeling or not coping in life. They might also fear negative repercussions on how they are perceived by their superiors if they speak up. This is not a good reason why one should not establish this space. Quite the contrary, it’s even more important to do so. Here male senior managers have an opportunity to lead by example to talk openly about their mental health experiences and what helps them keep on track in this regard. As with anything else, attitudes and behaviours change with time and within a context of safety. So make sure you have the latter in place and if you do not, work on establishing safety first.
  1. Regular reminders of mental health support available: Consistent reminders convey the message that psychological support is something you want your employees to seek. It is a way of how you normalise seeking psychological interventions. Reminders can also engage members of staff in self-reflection about how they are really feeling and whether they could make use of psychological help.
  1. Share warning signs and symptoms that suggest a mental health problem. People need to know what to look out for, both for themselves and in order to be able to direct others to support available when needed.

And to parents, grandparents’ carers and educators of young boys, encourage them to express their feelings. When they express sadness through crying make sure you do not shame them for it through statements like ‘babies cry’. On the contrary, validate that sadness is a normal feeling and crying is a way to express this.  

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