It was right around this time of year, many, many years ago, that I took my first real steps into the world of mental health as a psychology student. Over time, I learned about psychopathology, abnormal behaviors, mental illnesses, societal pressures, cultural influences and more on mental health. One of the things that stuck with me is the tidbit of “wisdom” that men report the most satisfaction in their lives when they are employed, married and with children. It was an odd little point that stuck in my mind, one that came up in several classes, one I had to regurgitate over and over again on tests.
But as we go through “No Shave November,” a movement started in honor of men’s health awareness, I am certain that the tidbit from many years ago doesn’t do men — especially Indian-American men — justice. South Asian men, regardless of their location, are born with the expectation to be on a very prescribed trajectory in life: have fun until you get a job, be the protector of the family, be the primary income earner, handle the finances, handle stress, take care of your family, and always be prepared for emergencies. The most critical part in this trajectory, the man and his self, takes little priority.
Everywhere I travel, I see Indian-American men spending more time in gyms grunting away to relieve stress, rather than addressing the root of the inadequacies, incompetencies and disconnect they may be feeling. I’m not knocking exercise at all; after all, it is a necessary and important part of wellbeing, but there is also a lot more to wellbeing than going to the gym every day. Though I usually focus on women’s issues, I wanted to write for all the brown men in my life, and in the world around me.
Whether you are married, single, with or without children, employed to any degree or not, your mental wellbeing is a crucial component to living a well-balanced life. It is critical for you, and everyone who is fortunate to be a part of your life. So please remember that mental health is about a lot more than illness or working out. Just as our physical health encompasses a lot more than flu and cold treatments, so does mental health. Especially as Indian-Americans, when we think of mental health, we tend to think of illnesses, and attach a stigma to talking about our problems. But mental health is so much more complex than that — especially men’s mental health.
We are taught that boys are tough and boys don’t cry and show emotion because that’s a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our mental wellbeing affects every aspect of our life. Our health is the one asset we take into every single situation in life with us. We can’t separate it from ourselves. It dictates our identity, work ethic, energy, leadership styles and leadership skills. Our wellbeing is what allows us to grow, as people. When we think about it in this depth, we can clearly see that taking control of our own mental wellbeing by mastering our emotions is the only true path to real inner strength, stability and peace of mind. But we are not taught this amid our multi-cultural pressures and expectations.
Think of your mental health outside of illness, and reframe it as a whole ecosystem that helps you thrive. Start thinking of ways to take care of yourself beyond the gym, like meditation or developmental coaching.
Men go through many of the mental wellbeing rollercoasters that women do; they just express and manifest these ups and downs differently. How often do you have candid conversations about what you are going through, whether with your partner, your friends or any other men around you? For most of the men I know, the answer to this question would sadly be, “almost never.” This is something that should and can change, immediately. There are support groups available online and locally in the metro-Detroit area dedicated to various men’s causes. If you don’t want to join a formal group, you could start an informal one with a few of your friends. People like me are out here as qualified resources with tools to help you with exactly these types of things. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when you feel like you have been given a list of expectations and demands on your time and sanity that go far beyond what you think you can deliver.