Shining a spotlight on the value men bring to their families, communities, and to the world, International Men’s Day celebrates and supports men by raising awareness about their wellbeing and the key challenges they face today.
This year’s theme ‘Making a difference for men and boys’ is underpinned by a mission to help garner positive change for men and boys across the globe.
Mental health and wellbeing
A considerable number of men and boys are affected by mental health conditions. Depression is common, with 1 in 8 men living in Australia experiencing it at some stage of their life. Every day in this country, approximately six men take their own life.
One factor that has been identified as playing a pivotal role in boys’ and men’s mental health is the notion of masculinity, which has become a hot topic in recent years.
Traditional behaviours, attributes and roles typically ascribed to boys and men have both positive and negative connotations. Courage and leadership for example are considered good qualities, while supressing emotions and masking vulnerability are known to have a detrimental effect on boys’ and men’s wellbeing.
"Some attributes boys and men are expected to live up to can be very damaging to their mental health,” says Dr Michael Flood, an expert in gender studies.
"Self-reliance for example, although helpful in some situations, can become problematic if attempted all the time, at all costs. By not opening up and seeking help, men’s relationships with others can suffer, as can their mental health and wellbeing."
Dr Flood goes on to say that the desire to provide – a trait traditionally attributed to men – can have a positive effect on mental health.
"Work can give men a strong sense of purpose, which in turn buoys their sense of wellbeing and self-worth."
A societal shift
In order to tackle decreasing mental health in boys and men, Dr Flood highlights the importance of society openly acknowledging that conforming – or attempting to conform to – traditional ideas of manhood, can be damaging to them. “Building an in-depth understanding of masculinity, while challenging harmful gender norms and outdated beliefs about what it means to be a ‘real man’, plays an integral role in changing things for the better,” he says
Both men and women, either consciously or sub-consciously, encourage unhealthy masculinity, often unaware of the negative effects it can have. From a father who shows little emotion, to a female teacher who’s tougher on the boys than the girls, traditional gender conditioning can start young and have long-lasting effects.
Recent research suggests that children become aware of gender at a young age and that by the age of three, most will start to learn and adopt ‘gender appropriate’ behaviour.
"Children are socialised into gender roles, through parental treatment, observation, toys, media, social norms, social institutions and law and policy,” Dr Flood explains, highlighting the need for society to debunk restrictive notions of gender as we raise and educate the younger generation."
Promoting healthy masculinity
While acknowledging that there’s a way to go, Dr Flood feels there’s plenty of hope for the future.
"We need a cultural shift where feminine qualities are valued and actively encouraged in both sexes. We also need to promote healthy masculinity and celebrate positive role models."
"On the whole, I’m excited to see that the wider community is changing how it views notions of gender and masculinity, which in terms of boys’ and men’s mental health and wellbeing is very encouraging."
Ultimately, by addressing unhealthy notions of masculinity and encouraging and celebrating healthy masculinity – which in contrast allows men to experience and display a full range of emotions – we all benefit; girls, women, boys and men.
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