By Adriano Saitta
“Yeah man, all good.”
This typical response often conceals the truth. It reflects a greater desire to avoid burdening others with what we honestly feel. But how can we possibly open up about our mental health and well-being in a serious way through such a superficial exchange – You good, Bro? Broaching the subject of our mental health on other’s well-being is a real challenge when many men view it as embarrassing, taboo, and a potential threat to defining their masculinity. Fortunately, the topic of mental health has increasingly become more socially acceptable and has gained more public attention. However, within the male community at large, it has yet to make a significant impact. And specifically, as a man in a fraternity, often surrounded by – what would be referred to as – “toxic masculinity,” I’d like to share the unspoken reality of men’s mental health. Be warned; there’s a lot more going on than you might think in those heads we use for smashing cans of beer.
College males experience mental health issues and deal with their problems in silence. I currently live in what might be considered one of the “worst possible” environments for discussing the topic of mental health: a fraternity. Since a young age, men are taught to be strong by repressing emotions; it’s the precedent we follow from those older than us. Unfortunately, this only contributes to greater emotional insecurity, and a recurring cycle of perpetuated anxiety experienced further down the road. This emotional repression operates at a subconscious level, often surfacing in more casual conversations.
A strong example of this is when talking about romantic interests. Many college men still struggle to address appropriately and effectively communicate with those we are romantically interested in. For instance, a conversation about girls easily becomes an anxiety-inducing event, “Well, she said this, how should I respond? Do I invite her out for a drink? Ahhhhh, I don’t know what to do.”There is an intense element of suppressed emotion formulated in this type of situation. Especially if past emotional situations that never received proper attention and support arise during these vulnerable moments. And sadly, interactions like these often remain at a surface level; we do not truly reach the deep-rooted issues we are dealing with daily.
From my experience, I have found that men feel much more comfortable, and find a bit more confidence within themselves and talking about their mental health after a few drinks – a tangible coping mechanism. While this is obviously not ideal, it helps break down masculine ego defenses and provides a much-needed opportunity to share what is actually going on in their lives. Anxiety is incredibly common; it comes in many different forms and finds its way into situations where it doesn’t always feel welcomed. Unfortunately, trying to repress anxiety ultimately creates the most vicious cycle: anxiety about having anxiety.
Men need to feel more comfortable talking about their experiences with mental health. The perception that mental health issues make a man “weak” or “soft” needs to go, seriously. Severe issues, such as anxiety and depression often develop from suppressing emotions. It’s time to feel comfortable about speaking up, recognizing that it’s okay not to be 100% okay. We all have hard times in our lives; without an outlet, it just compounds the situation and forces people to bottle up their emotions, often exploding when something small pushes them over the edge. Real strength comes from processing emotion, learning from our experiences, and reaching out to others in need. These vulnerable conversations create incredible bonds between people and open up the door for future support. Repressing emotions is never the way to handle mental health issues.
The healthy mental practices you want to instill in future generations should be practiced today. It’s important to surround yourself with a reliable company that brings you stability, don’t be afraid to reach out if you are struggling, people will be much more receptive than you could imagine. More importantly, remember that opening up to someone does not mean that you are burdening them. Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do, even though it is often the hardest thing to do. Conversations about mental health are extremely important, especially as we face new changes and challenges in our lives each day.
You are not in this alone, I promise.
Mental health rates among men are a crisis. Not enough people are talking about. Men are more likely than women to abuse substances and less likely to seek proper attention. Let’s start talking.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - (1-800-273-TALK)
National Hopeline Network - (1-800-SUICIDE)
National Mental Health Hotline - (1-800-553-4539)