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Just Be a Man!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “be a man”. I can remember when I was about 20, attending an “authentic manhood” study at my church at the time. The guy in the video series was talking about how to exhibit what he thought were the attributes of a “true man”. At the time I was going through a rough bout of depression and the videos and study only left me feeling worse, like I was somehow inadequate because I wasn’t living up to someone else’s manhood standards. I felt like I wasn’t man enough, because at the time I was unemployed and single and the video series was clearly focused on married, working men.

There’s nothing wrong with being a red-blooded, hard-working blue-collar Canadian with a wife and three kids, but it doesn’t make you a “real man” any more than any other man. Being a man, just like any other gender, is a social construct with a unique set of challenges and meanings depending on the society as well as the individual. For this year’s Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day, I’d like to share the message that it’s OK to be single or married, gay or straight, blue-collar, white-collar or no-collar. Authentic manhood isn’t about your social situation, marital status or how much is in your bank account. It’s about how you treat others and contribute positively to the world around you.

Men often face social stigma around mental health due to the expectation that men facing issues like depression, anxiety, phobias and so on, just need to “man up” and fix whatever is ailing them with sheer willpower, because that’s what men do. Having a mental illness that you can’t just make go away can make you feel like less of a man sometimes as a result, but the truth is, sometimes you can’t just “will away” mental health issues any more than you can will away a bad flu or poor eyesight. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a man. Neither does reaching out for help.

So, for this Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day, let’s remember that the word “man” has as many meanings as there are men. There are about four billion of us, so it’s hard to silence us if we speak up about how we feel and spread the message that mental health is an important and vital part of being a man and that reaching out for help will make you stronger, not weaker. And remember that your value isn’t determined by what you own, who loves you or how much respect you demand from others. You are awesome, so keep being you.

Check out this other great blog about Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day from mindyourmind’s Scarlett. Check out our interview with HeadsUpGuys. It’s a great resource for men struggling with mental health.  Also check out the "Be A Man" card we did in a Anti-Stigma Design Lab