For generations men within the Global Indian community have been perceived through the prism of being “bread-winners” and “providers” for the family. These outdated notions of masculinity and cultural constraints can have a problematic effect on male mental health and leads to stigmatisation which can make it difficult for men to speak out openly about how they feel.
Exploring the various elements of men’s mental health, the iGlobal Conference segment of DiwaliFest2020 hosted the panel entitled “Boys Do Cry: Opening dialogues in male mental health”.
Steered by host and broadcaster Tony Patti, the panel brought together Dilan Patel, Founder of DNA Fitness, Clinical Psychologist Tina Mistry and British Indian Pianist Rekesh Chauhan to discuss the battle to help those who may be struggling to reach out, and how we can create a more empathetic society.
Men and mental health
According to HCPC Clinical Psychologist Tina Mistry, crying is a human response to sadness and distress. However, for men gender stereotypes and other factors can make it hard for one to admit they do cry and to seek help.
Statistics surrounding men’s mental health in the UK, as revealed by a Samaritan’s study show that suicide is the number one killer of men who die under the age of 45. Men are also less likely than women to seek treatment for their condition – only one in four men who experience anxiety or depression seek treatment for it.
Mistry explains: “There are many factors which come in the way to allow men to express their emotions. The problem lies in systems of oppression that come against us. The biggest one being patriarchy and that is a system which holds not only women but men down to.”
Whilst there has been some significant shift in the outdated patriarchal norms, she points out that it remains deeply rooted within the South Asian culture even today.
“The idea that surrounds patriarchy is that men need to behave in certain ways. This is where we get the idea of toxic masculinity, that men should not cry or show their emotions and be the strong one. This sadly creates rigidity for their behaviours, and it does not allow any flexibility or expression. It creates a system where a lot of internalisation occurs, and the distress is held within,” says Mistry.
Opening up conversations
Patel, as a Personal Trainer and Nutritional Adviser, believes creating a positive environment where one can feel nourished is the key in getting people to talk about their mental health.
As a health and fitness lifestyle transformational coach, he points out: “Our body releases endorphins when we exercise, which are the feel-good hormones. Feeling better after exercising is our body’s response to it. Exercising won’t solve all of your mental health issues, but it will help you at the moment.
“Over time I see my clients slowly opening up, and I feel like it’s the environment they are in. When they get comfortable in that gym environment and exercise and see the physical and mental changes in their body, they then feel more confident to speak to you.”
For Rekesh Chauhan, there is a strong musical connect and most recently teamed up with the British Asian Trust to mark Mental Health Day by releasing a moving musical and dance production titled ‘Neelam’s Story’.
“It is important as an artist and creative that I can use my tools and communicate messages. For me, I have realised entertainment is an escape for many people and is also something that everyone can relate to. Sometimes messages are needed to be translated and put through a catalyst so people can relate to and recognise them,” he explains.
Yet, the resources available and coping mechanisms to help one in their mental health journey, are not always accessible or meet the tailored needs of the Indian diaspora.
Mistry adds: “It’s a very complex conversation, especially for those living in the UK and US. The systems are mainly built for white British people. A lot of the research that has been conducted within the mental health literature is based on white, middle class or student population.
“Therefore, the finding and modules which are often used to treat, and support people are mainly made for these specific groups of people.”
In relation to the reality for most British Indians – living within the British society and growing up in an Indian sensibility, Mistry adds: “We call this code-switching, and it’s a huge issue many of the diaspora face. The difficulties with code-switching are that it does have an impact on our identity formation. When in fact we can be both – this is a conversation we need to be having.”
And on breaking stigmatisation and barriers, Patel reflects: “Educating is important; our parents grew up in a different time, and they have tried to instil values learned from their parents into us. But sometimes it does not always work with our generation and I think that is where we need to educate our parents on the ‘why’s’ of what we do and want to do.”
The panel were agreed on some basic concepts such as the need to raise awareness and generate effective services to opening up dialogues in male mental health.
Mistry concluded: “Listening to the voices of the community is crucial.”
*For other sessions from the iGlobal Conference segment of DiwaliFest2020, click here