We find ourselves in a peculiar quandary. If we look at pop culture and ask “What is a man?” we can readily find a few archetypes.
Superman is by his very definition, the pinnacle of man. He’s strong, reliable, moral, unyielding. He loves and is loved. In his true form, people fear and respect him. It takes extraordinary circumstances to even just bend his knee.
We take his darker alternative – Batman. A man born into a good life and laid low by tragedy. But he takes that tragedy and rebuilds himself to superheroic standards – world class athlete, fighter, inventor, detective. He opposes the darkness in the world and always gets back up, no matter what they throw at him. He is prepared and resourceful. He is endlessly strong.
Although these examples are fictional and exaggerated, they represent symbols that men should aspire to. There’s a long cavalcade of similar examples, real or fictional: pinnacles of physical perfection, hyper-intelligent sleuths, confident masters of their world.
On the other hand, if you asked for the stereotypical characteristics of males, it might include violence, dominance, sex, confidence and a lack of emotion. We have an amazing cognitive dissonance here: the stereotypical man is a dangerous brute, but one of the greatest known men of all time, Shakespeare, still astounds people with his understanding of the human condition and nuanced exploration of the texture of life: death, war, jealousy, age, and, of course, love. Einstein, that great man of science, was a man of peace.
Even further, normal men are none of these extremes. They don’t solve their challenges by punching them. They don’t swing into a party and make all the women swoon. They aren’t masters of their universe – they get buffeted about by chance and unfavourable design. They make mistakes. They get depressed. Normal men aren’t heroes.
One in eight men will experience depression in their lifetime. And it’s not necessarily a product of tragedy. Some very successful, intelligent, hard-working, friendly men will find themselves laid low by the black dog of depression. It’s not a rational thing, depression doesn’t work that way. It’s a stronger villain than any laughing madman. It knows all your thoughts, weak points and ways of seeing things. It can make nonsense sound sane. It can amplify the smallest of issues. Depression can make a man retreat from his closest friends, ignore the things and people they love, drink or take drugs, imagine opposition from their closest friends and family, run themselves ragged, break their hearts, or sabotage their life in a myriad of dumb ways. Depression can destroy men without raising a single finger.
Four out of every five suicides in Australia are committed by men. In 2011, almost two thousand men took their lives. Depression is an incredible foe.
Historically and even now, men are encouraged to endure this onslaught and not seek help. Men should “man up” and stand against their sea of troubles, without support, without tools. Women are twice as likely to seek help from a mental health service provider than men. It’s ridiculous.
The good news is that depression and related mental illnesses are treatable. There’s a wide variety of treatments available and are customized to the person. But society’s men need resources, education and support to seek help when they need it.
I’m supporting Movember to bring in donations to help exactly this. Please consider a donation, no matter how small.
Normal men are not superheroes. They don’t shape the world by their very existence. They may find themselves struggling from day to day. They may be loved and respected and find success, but still have to reluctantly drag themselves out of bed every morning.
Support the men in your life. Make sure they’re going okay and help if you can. If they are depressed, get them to seek professional help. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It may be the start of a new life. A new life where depression pops up every so often like a villain-of-the-week, but at least it’ll be manageable. It’s better than the alternative.
A single man might not have the strength of a hundred, but with his friends, family and support services, he can get damn close.