Last year I wrote a blog about my feelings of anxiety in the workplace.
I was surprised, but extremely flattered when friends, family and colleagues alike told me how they felt my work was emotionally “raw” and “honest”.
I didn’t feel I was being particularly “raw” – I wrote what I thought and felt no differently than I would at any other time.
I’ve always been quite open with my feelings. I’m a “sensitive soul” according to my mother. I also make no secret that I take medication to deal with anxiety and stress.
But, as I understand it, this is rare among men.
Suicide is extraordinarily high in men, with the latest report from the Office for National Statistics declaring that as many as 74% of self-inflicted deaths were males in 2021, marking 16 deaths per 100,000 people. In contrast, female suicide accounted for 5.5 per 100,000.
Let me be clear, even one death by suicide, regardless of gender identification, is a tragedy, but with men it appears to be more of an epidemic.
Doubtless this difference in levels is caused by a multitude of factors, many of them societal. In response, I’d like to offer one possible solution.
A lot of anger has been levelled at the feminist phrase “toxic masculinity” with many young men feeling that it is an expression labelling all men “toxic,” and arguing it is a blatant, even sexist, attack on men.
Respectfully, I disagree.
Feminist theory on “toxic masculinity” believes that toxic traits associated with masculinity harm men just as much as they do women. Indeed, feminist theory here seeks to help men.
Traits like the desire to “man up” or being taught “boys don’t cry,” and that the only emotion men are allowed to show is rage, while sadness or fear are “girly” can have a very negative affect on young men’s minds.
In fact, many suicide victims are providers and caretakers – determined not to seem vulnerable to their family. Such was the case with Phillip Herron – a Welsh single father who was left with just £4.61 in his bank account waiting for benefits to come through.
His mother said after his death, “I wish he’d told us how he was feeling but we never knew. Listening to those last few months of calls I started asking myself, ‘Who is this person?’ He’d changed so much so very quickly.”
As I say, even one such case is too many.
I might be idealistic. But inspired by a post I made back in 2020, tagging my male friends to spread awareness and big them up in light of the male suicide epidemic, I want to use this blog to encourage men to open up.
Your feelings matter, and they should be talked about rather than buried.
Taking that first step though, can be hard. If you’ve finished reading this blog, then please, contact one male friend and ask how they’re feeling. They may be a little confused and embarrassed to answer (I know I would be), but it’s better that than to suffer in silence.