Suicide seems to be the tip of the iceberg for more general problems about how men approach their mental health.
Men grow up learning the “role” of how to be a man. However, the problem for many male clients that I have worked with in CBT sessions is that the lessons they have learned have been bad ones.
They have grown up in households where there was no male role model or they have grown up with older men who were either punishing or were simply not interested in them.
What is it that we, as men have learned? Firstly we learn the rules. And why is it different to what women learn?
In CBT we look at how early life experiences lead to the development of negative core beliefs. For many men a typical belief might be “I am a failure.”
Core beliefs are painful and need to be “managed”. If we believe we are failures then we manage this by achieving results, boosting our self-esteem and proving that “we are not failures”. These rules are phrased as if-then statements.
“If I achieve X then I will feel better (more confident, stronger, happier)”
If these rules work then there is no problem. However if the “if-then” rules are the sole source of our well-being we can get into problems.
If we do not achieve, we see this as a failure. When this happens we come face to face with our core belief.
Busting the myth that men are 'not good' at emotions
Rules are sometimes expressed as myths. There is a myth that men are not “good” at emotions. Like all myths this is not true.
Many men try to suppress their emotions, resulting in suppression of awareness that emotions exist.
The emotions are still there “ticking away” in the background. When their “if-then” rules break down the emotions associated with the core belief of failure rise to the surface very quickly. Men can then become very aware of their emotions and feel overwhelmed.
What can help to bring change?
We need to recognise that gender roles are not inherent but learned. We are not aware of how deeply learned these roles are. For example, the belief that the colour pink was for girls and blue was for boys only began in the 1920s. Before this time, the colours were reversed with pink for boys and blue for girls.
The world has changed and men need to develop new rules for living.
Men need new rules on what it means to be courageous - from the courage to express feelings to the courage to know that our self-worth.