I firmly believe that if men and boys were given the chance to learn about psychology, wellbeing, mental health, and happiness we wouldn’t be witnessing devastatingly high male suicide rates.
Of course, this would only be one part of the solutions that are required to help support and restore men’s mental health; but it is still a massively essential part.
Men deserve to be educated on how their own minds work; if we equip men with the essential information on how to maintain mental well-being, then we also equip them with the tools to support and maintain their own mental health throughout their lifetime.
But how can we expect men to know how to do something that they’ve literally never been taught?
Prevention is Better Than Cure
“Prevention is better than cure” is an age-old adage, and it also applies to mental health issues. It is much better to support people while they are healthy by educating them about practical strategies to maintain good mental health, instead of stepping in with some limited care interventions once someone is in difficulty.
As things stand men are expected to learn how to swim alone, unaided in the middle of life’s ocean, and only once they begin struggling or drowning under the massive, often unexpected tidal waves of life; then someone throws them a life aid, which in many cases is just too little, too late.
That’s why it’s essential that we start teaching our boys and men how to “swim” both physically and metaphorically in the seas of life so that when things get rough, they have the necessary skills to survive, stay afloat and keep their head above water.
If there is any group within society that is crying out for mental health education; it’s our men and boys.
The Educational System Is Failing Boys
I find it really shocking that our academic systems are still educating our children and youth on just about everything except what appears to be the most important thing of all; their own minds.
As we live this thing called life, we will inevitably all come up against numerous challenges. Life. Is. Hard. But given this universal understanding, why is it that we are still sending our children out into this complex and challenging world without a single class on how to look after their mental health?
I think that it’s incredibly strange that we spend around the first 20 years of our lives in educational systems that “claim” to prepare us for life, yet not only do we not learn anything about our own minds and mental health, but the majority of schools currently also don’t educate us on other essential life skills and many of us leave school without knowing anything about how to manage money, open a bank account, apply for a driving license, how to get a mortgage or a rental property, navigate dating and romantic relationships or just even basic health and wellbeing.
The fact is that being a human comes with complex, ever-changing emotions. We are highly emotional beings who feel first and think second, and this is actually one of our greatest strengths that have evolved to promote our survival. However, it also makes navigating our internal and external world quite challenging, and it doesn’t help that this whole aspect of living is ignored by the school curriculum.
This leaves children and adolescents to their own devices and they have to try and figure out how to cope with complex and intense emotions like sadness, grief, anger, anxiety, etc all by themselves.
Boys Receive No Emotional Education or Support
The difficulty of this journey from childhood to adolescence – to adulthood without any formal emotional education is further complicated for men and boys, as they not only receive no emotional education like girls and women do; they also receive “anti-emotion messages” that tell them how it is somehow “wrong, un-natural or un-manly” to experience and express emotion.
This concoction can have detrimental effects on male mental health as men and boys are left to drift without any guidance on how to navigate their emotional reality.
Men and boys need to be educated about mental health, mental wellbeing, what this looks and what this feels like. If men and boys are given the right information and educated about the science of well-being and the science of happiness, then we will be equipping them with the knowledge, tools, and habits that they can then implement on themselves in their own thinking, feelings, and behaviors; which will ultimately help them to help themselves to remain happy, healthy and successfully navigate life.
Mental Health Education in Schools
So what exactly should we be teaching our children about?
The government, the education system, the healthcare system, and the American Psychological Society (APA), need to work together to draw up a comprehensive educational program aimed at teaching all children, male and female, about psychology, the mind, mental health, and strategies for staying mentally healthy throughout life.
This program could be called something like “Mental and Emotional Wellbeing” and should be made age appropriate for each developmental stage of a child’s life, so that right from preschool to adolescence, to young adulthood and beyond, the next generation would be coming out of schools mentally and emotionally equipped to a high standard of self-efficacy.
Furthermore, the program should also include specialized modules for males, females, and gender-fluid individuals that are designed to address the specific needs of each group; and, I also believe that it would be incredibly beneficial for each group to learn about each other’s needs as this would increase understanding, compassion, support, and awareness across the gender divide.
The Mental and Emotional Wellbeing Programme could teach things like :
- How to Recognize, Feel and Release our own emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, grief, joy, relaxation, and calmness.
- Equality of Emotion – Gender bias and the traditional negative stereotyping of emotions regarding males, females, and gender fluidity. This should not include anti-male feminist propaganda that implies women are always oppressed, and instead remain unbiased and compassionate toward all genders.
- Mood Management – Anxiety and depression, what types of things can affect and lower mood e.g family/relationships, conflict, stress, drugs, alcohol, illness, job pressures, etc, and also what strategies can we use to help to improve our mood to combat these negative external influences e.g diet, nutrition, exercise, social support, medication, therapy, hobbies, sleep, etc.
- Stress Management – What is the Fight or Flight system in the body, and how does it work? What’s its purpose? What triggers it? What disables it? strategies for lowering stress levels such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness, breath-work, art therapy, social activity, etc.
- Meditation and Mindfulness – What is meditation? How does it work on the brain? All the benefits of meditative practice. Practical guided meditation sessions for every child at school.
“Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”
It’s time that we started giving all of our young people, especially men and boys as they appear to be most in need, the practical tools that promote mental and emotional wellbeing so that they are equipped with the necessary skills to successfully navigate all of the challenges of modern life in a healthy way, that not only allows them to Thrive; but also to Flourish.