It’s day seven of Movember. Throughout this month, many people around the world (including me) are growing moustaches to build awareness of men’s health issues. Many, many thanks to all the kind women who commented on my post a few days ago, in which I aired my concerns about focusing on men at a time when we really need to focus on tearing down the walls that still oppress women. I feel very free to write about this, knowing that I’m not contributing to the patriarchy by doing so.
So one of the big issues about men’s health is that men in our culture are taught not to ask for help. It’s considered a failing for a man to be weak, to cry, to need anyone at all. Men are supposed to “man up,” to hide their emotions, to be strong all the time. From the Movember website:
70% of men say their friends can rely on them for support, but only 48% say that they rely on their friends. In other words: we’re here for our friends, but worried about asking for help for ourselves. Reaching out is crucial.
This is something I’ve noticed among parishioners in every congregation I’ve served, in both men and women in fact. People who would have no problem at all provided any help whatsoever for others, but who at the same time would never ask for anything themselves. I have often wondered if it’s an outgrowth of the American drive for independence — if we have taken the idea of independence way too far, and internalized it as independence from anyone else at all. Which is crazy — whether you believe in God or evolution (or both, as I do), it is clear that we were not designed/destined/evolved to be like that. We are by our very nature in need of relationships. Anyway, I have heard so many parishioners in their old age tell me that their greatest fear is becoming a burden on their family. They would rather die than be a burden. Let me say that again, in bigger letters.
They would rather die than be a burden.
While I do hear this from women, I think it’s even moreso from men. And so it’s no wonder that so many men die from suicide. It’s no wonder that so many men die prematurely from preventable or treatable problems. If people see asking for help as being a burden, and being a burden as a fate worse than death, then clearly death is preferable to a whole lot of conditions.
So Movember encourages men to actually talk to each other. To actually open up. The Mighty is a digital health community created to connect people facing health challenges and disabilites, including mental illness. For November this year, they are embracing the Movember movement with a trending topic and hashtag #ItsOKMan. They encourage anyone who identifies as male to talk about their mental health. “It’s OK, man, to open up about this.”
I have been doing this for a long time. I open up about my depression on this blog, in person with people, even in sermons from time to time. Maybe this is why so often people call me “brave” for doing this. Because men aren’t supposed to open up like this — for some reason, it comes easy to me to break that barrier. And I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by a community that allows me to do so, even welcomes it and wants to help. I know not everyone is surrounded by that. But maybe we could all work toward making our communities places where it is allowed. Maybe we could all tell the men in our lives, “You know, it’s okay if you’re having a tough time. You can talk about it to me.” And maybe we could demonstrate that by sharing what demons we have, what health problems we have, what ways we feel like a burden. Because we’re not — that’s the amazing thing about talking about these things. They don’t make us burdens; they don’t weigh others down. Paradoxically, they lift us both up. It’s so strange, but it’s true.
Maybe we all need to open up, and build up trust with those we love, and those who love us.