When it comes to men and mental health, things are moving in the right direction, but there’s still more work to be done.
Recently, the subject of mental health has been addressed more openly in Singapore. As a result, the importance of managing it has been actively emphasized in the past few years. Because of this, we’ve started seeing an increased number of campaigns and content on the topic, reminding us to practice self-care and to always reach out to someone – whether a professional or loved ones – whenever we need help.
While things are moving in the right direction, gender equality in mental health still needs some work, particularly in highlighting the importance of mental health in men. It’s a topic that has not been actively talked about in the past because of the misconception that men are not supposed to be perceived as weak.
As an example: In 2020, market research company Ipsos conducted a survey to find out how Singaporeans are coping with mental health issues relating to the pandemic. What resulted was that the women surveyed reported more mental health related struggles compared to men. This brings up the question, “Why are men still not ready to talk about their mental health struggles?”
To be honest, the findings from the survey came as no surprise. However, it is not so much of whether men are allowed to express vulnerability, but rather, do we know how to express these emotions openly at all?
To understand this point, we will have to take reference from psychologist Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, where he proposed that our behaviors are learnt through observing our environment. To further put this into context, have we ever seen our fathers, grandfathers, or any significant male adult figures in our childhood express their vulnerabilities? The answer, for most, would probably be no, especially if they come from more traditional households. And when we do see men breaking down, a strange feeling overcomes us and we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do.
These observations might give us some insight on how men are approaching mental health in society. Mental health issues are gender-blind and men are not spared from it, considering how males account for more than 70% of suicides in 2020. With these numbers, there’s a mounting need for men to start having more conversations about their mental health. However, the challenge that we face is how are we supposed to get men to talk about it and seek help when the need raises?
Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in campaigns that are specific to men’s physical and mental health – to raise funds, as well as promote its importance. Campaigns like the annual Movember movement and Distinguished Gentlemen Ride has done great work in elevating the awareness of men’s mental health by using platforms that are traditionally male centric. Campaigns like these are tremendous efforts that greatly contribute towards mental health conversations in men.
In the field of therapy, we say acknowledgment is the first step toward recovery, and that society in Singapore has indeed taken the first step in acknowledging that men suffer from mental health issues as well. It’s a far step ahead from the times when men seeking help or expressing some sort of vulnerability was perceived as a sign of weakness. With this sort of progress, the pressure on men to always appear strong can finally be alleviated and only then we can take the next step of seeking help when we don’t feel mentally well.
Of course, more can be – and should be done – in progressing the mental wellbeing of Singapore’s male population. We need to set an example for other men, particularly the younger ones, that it is okay to appear vulnerable, to validate these emotions, and that by doing so is not a sign of weakness.
I believe this should first come in the form of prominent male figures in society showing an example of what it means to be vulnerable; giving reference to other men on how to approach vulnerability in a healthy manner. From there, these references can be replicated at home where younger boys can start learning what it means to be vulnerable and how they can deal with emotions by openly speaking about it, as opposed to avoiding it.
Beyond all the campaigns, there is also a need for a greater social shift to help progress the mental wellbeing of the male population. We all need to accept and welcome the expression of emotions by other men and only then can men find the courage to speak up. It is with hope that we look towards a more accepting future, where men can finally be empowered to express their vulnerabilities openly.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Daryl Tan is the Managing Director/Senior Therapist at Goodity Co. He is an advanced level Solution-Focused practitioner with a person-centred, strengths-based approach. He has a decade of experience in rehabilitative and community work, as well as in the private setting. He is a registered Social Worker and supervisor.