As mental health awareness month draws to a close, Lau Ciocan makes the case for why churches should lead the way in addressing the crisis in male suicide and toxic masculinity
The biggest killer of men in the UK under 49 years old is not prostate cancer or cardiovascular disease, but suicide. And it is most often linked to mental health issues. According to mental health charity CALM, the rate of male suicide in the UK is equivalent to 94 men a week, and men account for 75 per cent of all suicides in England and Wales
94 men die by suicide every single week in the UK. Yet despite these figures, the intersection of masculinity, mental health and faith is often overlooked by the Church.
Look to the man
I often ask myself what the Bible says about what it means to be a man – which can, incidentally, sometimes differ from the Church’s view, or the opinion of other Christians.
There are some Bible verses that refer to specific subsections of men and how they should behave – such as the Ephesians 5:25 call for husbands to love their wives – but for a broader take on God’s view of masculinity, we need to look to Jesus.
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Jesus was not afraid to express his emotions. We see him crying over the death of a friend, expressing anger when entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and being frustrated with the Pharisees’ behaviour on numerous occasions. When he travelled to Bethany, to the grave of his good friend, Lazarus, he wept openly.
When the locals see Jesus’ reaction, they are touched and acknowledge: “Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:36). By expressing his emotions, Jesus places himself in an incredibly vulnerable situation. He is publicly morning the loss of a friend. His critics could have used this moment to humiliate him but, instead, they recognise that his tears symbolise love, affection and sorrow.
In Jesus, we are shown a man who is comfortable and confident in his masculinity. His example refutes the contemporary notion that masculinity is synonymous with being emotionless – and by showing emotions, I do not necessarily mean crying. The spectrum is far broader than that, encompassing enjoyment, tranquillity, sadness, grief, sorrow and joy.
In today’s modern world, we may be tempted to think that men have been ‘always’ been more reserved when it comes to expressing emotions. But perhaps it is possible that, with the passing of time, we have lost some truths about how men should express how they feel.
The toll of suppressing our emotions can be high for both us and those around us. For some, it’s lethal
Jesus’s example, and other writings, support this. Neither the Gospel’s author, John, nor those present at Lazarus’ grave side in first century Judea criticise Jesus for his public display of emotion. There are similar accounts of male expression of emotions in Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, written roughly 800 years earlier in ancient Greece and Turkey.
Whether we are Christian or not, displaying our emotions does not make men weak or soft. Quite the opposite. The toll of suppressing our emotions can be high for both us and those around us. For some, it’s lethal.
Men’s mental health must be discussed more within our churches. Not only to encourage men to find safe spaces to open up about their trauma or daily challenges with friends and mentors, but also from the pulpit. We need more talks about healthy masculinities (always in the plural because men are not a monolith). How we view masculinity and our attitudes to mental health varies based on our culture, ethnic or faith backgrounds.
In Jesus, we are shown a man who is comfortable and confident in his masculinity
We should strive to create an environment where vulnerability is valued and seeking mental health support is encouraged. This Mental Health Awareness Month may soon be over, but talking about healthy masculinities is essential all year round.
By opening up this discussion within our communities, men can find solace, share experiences and inspire others to embrace their own journey towards mental wellbeing. This can also create a positive perception of male identity, how men can express their emotions instead of suppressing them.
Embracing masculinity, nurturing mental health and strengthening one’s faith are interconnected journeys that can lead men to experience new heights of self-discovery. Benefiting them, their families and their communities.
We are all on a journey. Let’s walk it together!