Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Men on radar

The samaritans have just released a twitter app, "radar," to help people to recognise possible signs of depression and even suicide in friends. The app is trying to turn the social network into a safety network especially for young males. Taken over decades the suicide rate seems to be relatively stable the basic numbers seem to be consistent with occasional peaks. What is also stable is the appalling difference between men and women. For every six female suicides there are twenty five male suicides.That seems to indicate an underlying woundedness in men that is either absent in women or being managed better by them.

It is obvious, even from childhood, that boys are more competitive. The culture encourages males to be independent, stoical and to guard their emotions perhaps to the point where they lose touch with their own emotional life and discount that life in others. Later in life that trend has been expressed to me as "women have friends and men have hobbies." It is also true that in traditional  marriages it is usually the woman who organises the social life, holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. It seems that men are somehow retarded women as the softer skills of life are increasingly superseding the more basic physical and defensive gifts of the male. That is something that will not easily change.
Men need to hear the emotional content behind the words
What can change is the attitudes of men towards one another so that they can offer each other some of the support that women share but perhaps in a different way. I am not suggesting that men need to adopt the high level of communication, phone calls, chats and a good cry now and then. I believe there is a male style of communication that does not need the same amount of detail, emotional language or a regular commitment to meet up.But as men we should realise that compassion and listening to one another needs to come before problem solving and getting on with watching the match.

One of the things men can do for each other is to ask open-ended questions that draw out some background so that a meaningful exchange happens. Often the response to some expression of struggle is to  say "sorry about that" and then move on to another topic leaving the other person more isolated than before. What we need to do as men is to extend our range of caring skills whilst being thoroughly masculine. That would mean being ready to listen, finding open-ended phrases that draw out a longer conversation. Men also need to deploy a masculine style of compassion by using short phrases to show they have understood without necessarily showing emotion themselves.

The rugged individual hero is eventually isolated and alone

At the heart of the male challenge to modern life is isolation and as a gender we need to work more at communication as men. Men are probably directed by life to be self-contained but not independent. The current culture idolises independence and male role models seem to be stoical, unemotional and invulnerable. Those myths are undermining male mental health in western culture and need to be debunked. At the same time we need to consciously educate boys to listen to others more effectively to future-proof them from isolation and depression.

Beneath the isolation of male western culture is an even deeper hunger that needs to be fed if men are to be more healthy. The hunger for meaning that gives purpose and direction is the bond that is missing.What can we do about that?