Trigger warning: This article contains material related to suicide and mental illness. Discretion is advised.
In a world that has traditionally praised the resilience of men, the narrative around their mental health struggles is evolving. While the expectation for men to embody stoic warriors persists, there is a noticeable shift in the script.
According to a recent NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) report, the suicidal death rate per lakh (SDR) among men stood at 20.6, compared to women’s 8.1 in the year 2021. Dr. Lakshmi Vijaykumar, founder of Sneha, an NGO in Chennai for the prevention of suicide, says, “There’s an anomaly, a paradox. Worldwide, women have a higher prevalence of depression, but it’s men whose suicide rates are higher. It goes to show that men have a difficulty in expressing their emotional needs and distress, which leads to issues like substance abuse and hence higher rates of suicide.”
Contrary to the stereotypical image of a closed-off man, individuals like Naresh, a software engineer from Bengaluru, are breaking the mould. Naresh, who has been in therapy for the past couple of years, observes, “A lot of my female friends are way more open about therapy, so it is true that men seem to be facing some stigmas/misconceptions.” He notes that some men lack awareness of what therapy can offer, but he himself has found great value in it.
One essential factor in dismantling barriers for men involves challenging societal norms that link a man’s worth to his perceived contributions to society. V Chandrasekhar, a counsellor and psychotherapist from Chennai, points out, “In fields of mental health, men are understandably put off when they hear terms like toxic masculinity. Very few spaces feel safe for men, and so therapy needs to be sensitive to gender differences.” This acknowledgement of the need for safe spaces signifies a positive shift toward inclusivity and understanding.
“Exposing young people to the knowledge about mental health seems to increase their desire to seek professional help, and this is true for all genders. However, right now, according to the data we have collected over the last year and a half, 59% of the youth consultants (age 10-24) at SCARF (Schizophrenia Research Foundation) are men,” says Dr. Shiva Prakash Srinivasan, a consultant at the Department of Mental Health at SCARF India.
Coping mechanisms play a crucial role in managing stress, and the newer generation of men is diversifying these practices. Practices like listening to music, journalling, or engaging in hobbies are being embraced without conforming to gender stereotypes. Men are recognising the importance of self-care outside formal therapy settings.
Chandrashekar emphasises the need to distinguish between therapeutic activities and formal therapy. He notes, “There are posts on social media that read therapy is expensive, so I go on a bike ride, or I listen to music, so there’s a lot of confusion between what is therapeutic and what is actual therapy.” This increasing dialogue and exploration of diverse avenues for well-being indicate a positive evolution in men’s mental health awareness.
To overcome the challenges associated with therapy, there is an emerging understanding that mental well-being extends beyond formal counselling sessions. The newer generation is emphasising the value of fostering supportive communities where men can openly share their experiences and feelings without judgment. Creating spaces where vulnerability is embraced, and conversations around mental health are normalised, significantly contributes to breaking down the stigma.
Shruti Prasad, a psychologist working in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, and an alumnus of The Gender Lab fellowship, underscores the need for ongoing education to address gender biases in counselling sessions. She remarks, “A lot of training we go through as mental health professionals does not take us through how to address such gender biases in counselling sessions, and so we need more training and education on how different social identities interact, especially in the Indian setting.”
If these topics cause emotional, mental, or physical distress, call Sneha (044 2464 0050) or Aasra (9152987821).