Men, Mateship and Mental Health

31.10.18

-Approx. 75% of suicides every year in Australia are by men (out of approx. 3000 total yearly suicides. This is despite lower *reported* rates of mental health issues for men than women)
-Approximately 12.5% of Australian men will experience depression in their lifetime.
-Approximately 20% of Australian men will experience anxiety in their lifetime.
-Men are less likely to seek help

-Social support is associated with increased resilience and lower signs of depression and anxiety in Australian men*
-Satisfaction with relationships is associated with lower signs of depression and anxiety in Australian men*

-68% of men in their ‘middle years’ only have medium or poor social support*
-31% of men wish they could open up to friends*
-28% want friends to open up to them*
-50% of men rarely talk about deeper personal issues with friends*
-31% don’t talk much with friends generally*
-37% of men aren’t satisfied with their relationships due to not feeling emotionally connected or supported*

-The majority of men agree mental health and suicide are important social issues to be addressed.*
-The majority of men feel social-connectedness is not an important social issue to be focused on.*
-This discrepancy may be due to lacking awareness that social-connectedness and mental health are highly correlated.*

There’s a lot of research to suggest that some of the barriers to men seeking or successfully establishing more social-connectedness and closeness with others are related to social and cultural expectations of gender-appropriate behaviour, gender-norms of interpersonal relations with other men and the varied influence these have on individuals. Some examples are: seeking help being viewed as shameful and a threat to independence as opposed to a useful tool; expression of vulnerable experiences or emotions as being ‘weak’ as opposed to strengths for building relationships and for overcoming problems; these barriers causing difficulty knowing how to develop connection from a lack of experience and practice.

And no, this is not a prompt to take masculinity, tie it up in the public square and stone it until it whimpers or dies. Any reasonable person would know intuitively that demonising and undermining a category that people value and identify with is the best way to provoke deaf ears, defensiveness and resistance to change. The important issues can be discussed without condemning masculinity.

So, what does social-connectedness actually mean? How do I know if I feel social-connectedness? This article and Wiki page explain a bit.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/maintaining-healthy-socia…
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_connectedness

Supportive relationships are also crucial for anyone’s wellbeing.

In the current culture, there is a reported tendency for men to depend solely or primarily on a significant-other (if they have one) as their source of feeling valued, liked, loved, for closeness, emotional support, emotional intimacy and often social connection. *For all genders and sexualities*, reliance on only one person can put a strain on romantic or supportive relationships, and this can erode the supportiveness over time, causing the relationship to conversely become a major source of stress. It also means less life-wide practice at giving to others. Retention of supportive relationships needs mutual maintenance. It makes sense then that learning how to develop social connectedness and emotional intimacy outside of a romantic relationship could actually be a deliberate strategy to strengthen the support within the important relationship.

Something that is often ignored when men are viewed as invulnerable, unemotional beings is that for *any human*, repeat, *any human*, who seeks or relies upon connection mostly from a romantic partner, a romantic relationship becomes perceived as so vital to their wellbeing that it’s very natural to have persistent feelings of insecurity and fears of rejection within relationships (which conversely can motivate disconnecting reactions), and to experience feelings of loneliness and isolation when they are single. These natural vulnerable feelings are still viewed with extreme judgement as signs of ‘weakness’, when really, they’re very normal human feelings to have when we aren’t meeting our needs (and perhaps, some of these connection needs could be met by others, other men even, with courage and practice).

The following links explore emotional intimacy (it’s not unusual for people to actually not really understand what it means). They focus on romantic relationships (the world is obsessed by romance!) but actually, most of the information can apply to family and friends as well. MALE FRIENDS AND FAMILY TOO… As confronting and uncomfortable as that could feel right now with the way things are (but hey, turns out women can govern countries without their wombs creeping up to strangle their brains which was deemed an impossibility in the good old days, so how objectively impossible is men gaining emotional intimacy with men?).

What actually are the features of emotional intimacy? How do I know if I have it?
https://www.fbclifepath.org/…/characteristics_of_emotional_…

What’s your ‘Intimacy Quotient?’ (scroll down):
https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/6-questions-reveal-your-i…

Why would I develop emotional intimacy for wellbeing? Or how can I?
http://betterrelationships.org.au/well-being/as-a-man/

Lack of social connectedness and emotional intimacy happens for women too. Women are also exposed to these restrictive cultural norms. Perhaps the ‘epidemic’ is just less pronounced for the population of women because the society and culture that houses our ‘school of life’ has given us more permission to validate connection with other people and therefore provided us life-long learning about how to do this. There are still plenty of isolated, disconnected women owing to their unique influences, the same as there are plenty of men who are skilled at connecting with others.

For women also, sometimes it’s necessary for just *one* courageous person to drop their social persona and claim their natural experiences- e.g. “I feel lonely”, “I got something wrong”, “I don’t know what to do”- in order for us to even contemplate the existence of those feelings in ourselves, let alone feel safety to claim them too. Courage and speech are the domains of all humans, not just women, so feasibly, men can do this for each other as well (and many do already- the modern risk-takers).

What if some perceived ‘disconnecting’ interpersonal behaviour isn’t representative of static traits of gender, personality or permanent inability? What if some habits are natural consequences for any person (male, female, intersex etc) who struggles with some of their vulnerabilities and doesn’t know how to make changes or is unaware that connecting with others could help them thrive? What if these habits in some people actually represent a person trying to cope with psychological distress? What if there are real, teachable skills a person can learn and develop for connecting socially and promoting emotional intimacy to help themselves live more of a life they would like?

It would be nice to live in a world in which the myths of gender don’t prevent people from connecting with each other or from recognising and validating their own or others’ natural human difficulties. This might be idealistic, but there is already lots of change happening. I personally seek to take responsibility for fostering a micro-world like this for myself and the people I care about. I attempt this in the breadth of information I use to inform my attitudes, in the way I express my attitudes, in the way I *choose* to interact with others and who I choose to bring into my life. Seen another way, from the *very natural* human need for control, this is how I seek control in my life- control of my own impact on the world, rather than control of other people. This suggests to me that any individual could choose to have their own micro-impact too with continued reflection and learning, if it’s a world they’d also like more of.

This TV show and website says it better:
http://manup.org.au

*Stats from this report: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/…/bw0276-mens-social-connecte…

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