The other weekend Saturday Night Live (SNL) came up with the ‘man park’. Acknowledging that men are often isolated and don’t talk about their emotions, SNL thought it was funny to offer a safe place (in the form of what looked like a dog park) where men can meet other men. It was funny but it underscored a serious message: Men don’t seek help when they should, and this creates a less safe society for everyone.
A friend told me about the sketch because I have spent years working as a psychotherapist with the male labeled, and I recently wrote a book (Beyond the Blue), offering the male labeled survival strategies for depression, anxiety, relationship conflict, and trauma. As the United States is a patriarchal society, the male label is associated with presumed power and privilege. There are issues of hyper-masculinity, toxic masculinity, and incels… So why the hell (you might ask) would I write a book to help the male labeled?
How it started: Helping the male labeled to survive and thrive
Like the ice-cold blue of death, the picture appears bleak for the male labeled: There are higher rates of suicide, more survivors of trauma, and less help-seeking behavior. Having watched the pain caused by my uncle’s suicide, I carried out qualitative research in 2010, focusing on the male label as a factor in suicidal ideation and help-seeking. During that process, it became clear that the male label often silenced people when they needed help the most.
This message was repeatedly confirmed over the years in my practice as a psychotherapist. We are conditioned to make certain associations between the male label and strength, silence, and stoicism. There is an emphasis on independence and external gain at the expense of introspection or self-awareness, and, as a result, the male label poses a significant obstacle when it comes to help-seeking and depression, anxiety, relationship conflict, and trauma.
There is a myth that depression does not affect the male labeled, and yet I believe that there is a large dark underbelly of undetected depression (and trauma) amongst the male labeled. Given the expectations associated with the male label, we do not expect the male labeled to be depressed, and so, just as we would not expect to see a black swan, we do not recognize it when it is standing right before us.
Explosive anger and an incessant need to overwork are just two of many signs of depression, anxiety, or trauma, and yet these can be used to pathologize the help-seeking male labeled. In the United States, there is a higher rate of diagnosis of the male labeled when it comes to externalizing disorders such as attention-deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or substance-related disorders. Some argue that these diagnoses are given to the male labeled at a higher rate because the male label blinds the diagnosing healthcare professionals to other potential diagnoses, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma, and so, without the right help, the toxic cycle is left to continue.
How it’s going: Achieving a safer, healthier society for everyone
Just as we might understand mental health and help-seeking behavior through an understanding of the male label (and the associations we make), to only look at the blue of the male sex label would be to paint an overly simplistic picture. There are as many different shades of human identity as there are variations in the rates of suicide, trauma, and successful help-seeking behavior. Factors that impact these variations include structural oppression in the form of socio-economic factors, racism, transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia (to name but a few).
Let’s face it: Most of the problems about hyper or toxic masculinity are caused by the cisgender, straight, white dude. In terms of survivors of trauma, there is an exceptionally high rate of violence against people of color, perpetrated by white male labeled police officers. And if you want to look at one type of trauma, sexual violence, there are more survivors amongst the female labeled (and as a parent of two daughters, this fact does not escape me). There are also staggeringly high numbers of survivors amongst people who are transgender, especially transgender people of color, and the higher rate of diagnosis of externalizing disorders is compounded when we consider issues of racism, transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia.
Beyond the blue
To look at the blue of the male label alone would give an overly simplistic picture, but we also cannot ignore it. When it comes to the male label, we make certain associations, and this has a serious impact on whether or not people get help for depression, anxiety, relationship conflict, and trauma. And if we don’t start to look for the black swans of the male labeled depressed, their symptoms (including explosive anger, an incessant need for control, and constant overworking) will create a less safe society for everyone.
Take a black swan for a walk in the ‘man park’?
This Thanksgiving, when you gather around the table to share turkey with male labeled family members or friends, consider whether there is a black swan sitting right next to you. They may not want a walk in the ‘man park’ but you could offer them a chance to redirect their focus away from external gain and inwards, to their emotional needs. And in time, we will get beyond the blue of the male label, and beyond the blue of untreated depression, anxiety, relationship conflict, and trauma. For the sake of us all.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
(They / Them)
Psychotherapist and author of Beyond the Blue