As I approach the anniversary of my best friend's death, I anticipate the multitude of emotions that will return, whilst also feeling a need to further investigate the fallout of this tragic occurrence. As despite efforts from families and friends, I found myself desperately attempting to circumvent the pain, rather than face it directly. It didn't seem right to show any external reaction to my grief, as this would be followed by feelings of embarrassment and shame. This grief aversion isn't a causality that was limited to me, but also to countless other men, in attempting to live up to a masculine ideal. However, this refusal to accept grief is an epidemic that directly impacts an individual's mental health, thus it becomes a necessity to re-evaluate the methods of masculine grieving.
To examine if this same attitude remains in our society and specifically my own generation, I began my own investigation among a dozen of my male peers, aged from 18-24 where they filled out surveys anonymously to see if this stigma will continue to persist and damage society.
It is clear that there is a distinct difference between the way men and women grieve. As Brian Burnham pointed out, research shows that after a loss, men experience greater changes in their mood than women do and experience more consequences for their physical health. The process of grieving for many men results in the development of a fake emotional image that would imply their own "stability" and "strength". But this disguise of what Dr Mike Freidman would describe as "status insecurity" is simply not a healthy mindset to possess. A 2001 paper published in The Review of General Psychology, had psychologists at the University of Utrecht discover that widowers have a higher incidence of mental and physical illness, disabilities, death and suicide than widows do.
The study with my peers was enlightening, eleven of the responses claimed that they understood there was a difference between the way men and women grieved, with only one claiming they were unsure. Yet all twelve said that that they develop an emotional facade in response to their grief. The issue of critical importance, however, is that all twelve unanimously agreed that discussing their pain was helpful to the healing process, nevertheless, tens of the responses stated that they found there to be social barriers in being able to talk to someone about this subject.
In my study, I reached out to psychotherapists: Michael Dale Kimmel who validated my conclusions. Stating that grief is a normal and healthy response to the sign of a well-adjusted man, but socialisation has manufactured an ideal that men aren't able to handle their emotions. Also stating that while it is tempting to turn to other vices to evade the pain, it becomes a poor long-term strategy. The key to eliminating the stigma is the process of normalising grief for men and being able to discuss the issue without fear of shame or emasculation.
Further developments need to be made in normalising grief and providing a safe space for men to discuss the issue. The ideal of the stoic man has percolated my generation and shows that this issue is likely to continue unless there is further intervention. Men fear speaking out for this very fear of emasculation as my study revealed. Conversation is key to normalising this mental health discourse and preventing further impairment to their psychological condition. A poignant note to conclude on is that I asked all the participants to briefly summarise their thoughts regarding people's response to grief and the consensus can easily be summarised into one word:
Burnham, B. (2018). How to Deal with Grief, Loss of Loved One | The Art of Manliness. [online] The Art of Manliness. Available at: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/loss-grief-and-manliness-what-every-man-should-know-about-losing-a-loved-one/ [Accessed 25 May 2018]
Ken, D. (2013). How Men Grieve - Dr Ken Druck. [online] Dr Ken Druck. Available at: https://www.kendruck.com/blog/how-men-grieve-on-goodmenproject-com/ [Accessed 25 May 2018]
Stroebe, M. (2001). Gender differences in adjustment to bereavement: An empirical and theoretical review. Review of General Psychology, 5(1), 62-83.