From November to November, every year
This past November, with the event ‘No Shave November’ being all the buzz on social media, I began asking myself how concerned people really were about men's mental health–which, besides cancer, is one of the central issues the event hopes to shed light on. The event seeks to encourage participants to refrain from spending on grooming and shaving and to donate the funds thus saved to foundations seeking to spread awareness around cancer, men's mental health, and suicide prevention.
I began to wonder whether the issue of men’s mental health is even acknowledged most days of the year. I made a few queries and was shocked to learn that people barely talk about men’s mental health–and that led me thinking about how we so easily evaluate men’s characters, their performance at work, and so on without accounting for their states of mind.
Men’s mental health, especially in third world countries, has remained an almost-taboo subject even though we know that men often suffer devastating consequences owing to society’s lack of interest in men’s mental health. Indeed, we have actually been conditioned to not just sweep the issue under the rug but to adopt toxic, self-defeating habits: for example, we are asked to suppress our emotions and not ask for help when things get rough.
The immediate setting in which we are raised is where such conditioning begins. From childhood, and right through to adulthood, we are taught to aspire to be mentally and physically indestructible. We are encouraged to keep a lid on our emotions and to not even accept that we might be depressed or anxious. This type of thinking gets reinforced at school, at work, and in the larger society we live in.
In such a context, I have been pleased to see that in recent years, a sizable sum of money is usually donated, worldwide, to the “No Shave November” cause. Locally, too, I have seen a surge in the number of men sporting beards. Some of these newly bearded men have told me that they were inspired to let their beards grow out on account of the “No Shave November” movement trending on social media.
I have also gathered that when we forgo shaving our beards during November, we are signaling our camaraderie with and empathy for cancer sufferers and men hobbled by mental illness. Such acts, of course, can help the silent sufferers emerge from their shell–for many of them suffer alone and in silence. But why can’t we create other similarly creative campaigns to change how we think about men’s mental problems? What will it take for us to revisit some of the central ideas around what it means to be a man and how men should deal with depression and the like? What will it take for us to understand that men’s mental health should be an area of focus for more than just one month a year?
We can wait for a larger movement around this issue to bubble up and hop on the bandwagon once a trend starts gaining steam–or we can start humbly, locally, and initiate the changes wherever we can. In our families, for instance, and among our friends. We can start by talking about our own issues around mental health, lending a sympathetic ear to those affected by its ravages, and start becoming the change we seek in our society.