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Mental Health Journalist of the Year: Runner-up

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Boys do cry – they just do so in silence

Aaran Thakore, Hampton School

74% of all suicide victims in the UK are male. The lives of 12 British men are claimed by it every day. Suicide is the single most common cause of death for men under 50.  These statistics although shocking form just part of a disturbing global trend. 

In Mexico, five times more men take their own lives than women. Male suicides in Japan are twice as common as female ones. And Europe as a whole, has one of the largest gender disparities in regard to suicide victims in the world. The men’s mental health emergency truly is the greatest unreported crisis facing modern humanity. 

But why? Why are suicide rates so startlingly high for men, particularly those that are young, when they are greatly outnumbered by women when considering those receiving mental health treatment? Surely this in itself contradicts the idea that more men turn to suicide as a means to escape their psychological pain? Well, in reality, this exact fact may hold the answer. 

We’re all aware of the pressure society can put on individuals to conform to a certain unofficial protocol; it’s not anythingnew. For decades, societal stigmas have caused many boys to resort to the more ‘masculine tough front’ over seeking help. The fact so few men are diagnosed with mental illness is not due to a reduced prevalence of such conditions within the male demographic but due to a lack of societal understanding and acceptance with regards to male mental health. 

You may think that in the present-day things have changed. In some ways they have. Emotional intelligence and open communication are often more valued traits than those aligned with the more traditional male bravado. Yet the century old mentality of ‘bottling it up’ won’t be eradicated so easily.

For that to occur, there needs to be a significant change in society’s meaning of masculinity. While many live in a more liberal society, millions of men still live in countries where expressing emotions is considered a weakness and aggressive assertion a strength. 

For those elsewhere, the phrase ‘man up’ may be less common but the equivalent internal message is not. Though the explicit gendered ideologies have arguably evolved, the prominence of those that are implicit haven’t. Laws and customs are far easier to update than the hardwired internal workings of the human mind. In fact, recent studies show that over half of American men still feel pressure to align with outdated ideas of manhood, irrespective of the official societal rules they live under.

So, although we may have progressed, the ingrained messages in millions of male youths remain the same. Simply dismissing this still pressing problem by aimlessly asking if someone’s ‘okay without even caring to listen to the answer is not enough. We need to spread the message and do so loudly, unashamedly unteach the lessons our ancestors taught.

Let’s not just rewrite the rulebook, let’s rip it apart, shed ourselves of the constraining shackles of traditional gender conceptions. Showing emotion is a strength not a weakness. Seeking help when needed takes courage not cowardice. Noticing one’s struggle is a skill to be admired not undermined. After all men aren’t strong when they remain stoic, they are when they don’t. 

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