Around one in eight men face mental health issues including depression, anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The proportion is probably much higher, as men are less likely than women to seek mental health support, and therefore official figures do not give the full picture.
In evolutionary terms, factors that influence human reproductive behaviours mean that male expressions of vulnerability were less attractive to potential mates. Whilst oversimplified here, this social phenomenon resulted in the stronger, more muscular men being perceived as better able to hunt and protect the family or tribe from the sabretooth tiger.
Consequently, conditioned social expectations have influenced the extent to which men seek help or support for health problems. While we often accept gender stereotypes can be damaging to women, male stereotypes can be equally damaging to men.
The macho stereotypes have meant that men are less likely to show weakness or feelings such as fear, pain or tenderness. Instead, expressions of strength, control, anger, and aggression are favoured, alongside efforts to conceal weaknesses and to “toughen up”.
As a result, mindfulness may seem less attractive to men because of the way it is promoted, highlighting softer emotions, peace, compassion, tenderness, love and vulnerability; characteristics perhaps less acceptable to the socially conditioned “male self-image”.
However, things are changing and men will access help when it meets their preferences and context. For example, when mindfulness is combined with the “Man Shed” or “Barbershop” concept, men will use opportunities to try mindfulness. These spaces provide unique opportunities for men to unlock their full emotional capacity where they know any vulnerabilities in exploring key skills essential for survival, will be held compassionately, and in confidence.
It is Men’s Health Week from 14-20 June, so perhaps if you’re a man reading this you might be inspired to use the opportunity to explore mindfulness to improve your own health and wellbeing. Alternatively, why not find out if there is a local men’s workshop or group that includes mindfulness that you can introduce to any of the men in your life.
Dean Francis is the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for the Sussex Mindfulness Centre. This article first appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent.