TLDR; Nothing wrong with being a mummy’s boy, so go hug your mother. Or whoever that special someone in your life is. Cuddles and conversation for the win! 😊
So.. Hamza productions aka Diary of a Badman recently posted a video (called Boys Don’t Cry) which was the latest in a series of events in my life which really got me thinking about mental health in men.
I’m sure everyone knows by now that the biggest killer of young men is suicide. But statistics about mental health in the Muslim community are much harder to come by.
According to the latest data from the Samaritans, Muslims have a much lower standard mortality rate from suicide than the general population in the U.K. (and I’m sure the same will apply worldwide). A study from 2010 found the same was true for the South Asian (SA) community in Britain – SAs had half the mortality ratio of their white counterparts, and within that, South Asian Muslims even less (for those who like maths, that’s 0.47 per 100,000 compared to 9.31 for the general population). All of that is genuinely wonderful but that doesn’t mean the situation is perfect; male suicides still outnumber females even within the Muslim community in Britain. (Worldwide studies suggest the opposite is true)
Having four older brothers has given me a small window into the male psyche. I’ve heard them countless times call each other names if they’ve cried or displayed any kind of emotion. Their default on emotional topics is usually denial. Even showing affection to one other seems taboo. For instance one of my brothers was being massaged by his friend in between a game of FIFA. Two of my other brothers called them “gay”. But even if they were just joking, it got me thinking. Women are allowed to be affectionate with each other in public usually without judgement or jest about their romantic preference. Whereas men who are affectionate towards their friends or family in public are effeminised by society. I can stroke my friends hair and it would be seen as maternal. Whereas if a boy was to do the same with a male friend it would be deemed a romantic gesture.
In the 1970s, Virgina Schein, conducted a study looking into the characteristics associated with males and females in managerial positions. Her study found that men (even outside the realm of managerial positions) were associated with words such as Competent, Self-reliant and Emotionally Stable, and women were associated with Sympathy, Kindness, and Social Acceptance. Not only are these stereotypes, they are unspoken expectations which can sometimes be a heavy burden to bear. Even at the height of romanticism, a period defined by poetry and other aesthetic, feeling arts, the ideal for a man was to be a stoic. To be a statue of serenity while the world around him and inside him was a mess. While there is much to be said for reacting to adversity with patience and grace, sometimes it can breed a culture of denial, because the implications are that you are less than the ideal man. And while I can acknowledge that the romantic period is long gone, and Schein’s research took place nearly a half a century ago, these expectations trickle through the generations and these stereotypes are misguided and unhealthy.
Anyyyyway, where am I going with all of this?
Well, studies have shown that talking to your mother, and hugging your mother both help to release serotonin: the same brain chemical that is utilised in most anti-depressant medication. When the Prophet (saw) said that heaven lies at the feet of your mother, maybe he meant in this life too.
And it doesn’t just have to be your mother. Other studies show that just sleeping next to someone you love can increase life expectancy and reduce stress and anxiety.
NB: I’m not saying it will cure depression, I know its a lot more complicated than that, but sometimes all we need is connection and a safe space to expression our emotions. Both of these things can be provided by us to those around us.
To leave you on a positive note, suicide rates, for the first time in a long time, are actually decreasing alhamdulillah, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that people are willing to open up about mental health problems.
As a healthcare professional I often wonder what the best thing is to say to someone who feels like life isn’t worth living. And I think Offred from the handmaid’s tale said it best when she said “there is always hope”.