“He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.”
One in five young Australians are likely to experience a diagnosable depressive disorder by the age of 18. This issue is heightened in Australian males with suicide being the leading cause of death for young men under the age of 25.
These horrifying statistics are merely the symptoms of a much bigger problem.
As young men we have bandages for cuts and icepacks for bruises but most of us have no idea how to treat every day emotional injuries such as rejection, failure, loneliness, loss, trauma, guilt or low self-esteem.
We teach our children how to take care of their bodies from a young age and they usually learn these lessons well. However, ask an adult what they should do to ease the devastating pain of rejection, the heart-tugging ache of loneliness or the bitter disappointment of failure and they’re likely to be unprepared.
The reason we take little or no purposeful action to treat the psychological wounds we sustain in daily life is because we lack the practical emotional tools with which to manage such experiences.
For boys, this issue is magnified by statements like “be a man”, “stop crying” or “don’t be a sissy” which instil from a young age that to be a man we must be unbreakable.
The idea of being seen as weak in the eyes of other guys starts in our earliest moments of boyhood and follows us throughout our lives. We find ourselves having to constantly prove to ourselves and our peers that we aren’t ‘emotional’, ‘sensitive’, ‘vulnerable, ‘gay’ or ‘like a woman’ – as though these are negative things.
Joe Ehrmann, star of award winning documentary The Mask You Live In and former NFL coach, argues that we judge our young men on three components: athletic prowess, sexual conquest and economic success. Masculinity expert Craig Wilkinson argues that we constantly affirm young men on their performance opposed to who they are as a person, resulting in the constant need for external validation that they are ‘enough’.
78 per cent of suicides are men, 80 per cent of homicides are committed by men, 91 per cent of gun-related violence is committed by men, 93 per cent of sexual abuse is committed by men and 95 per cent of domestic violence is committed by men.
Where to from here?
This is far from a ‘males are toxic’ ideology. It’s not about shaming men or telling them what to do or how to live their lives. It’s a call to action, asking men to explore what is beneath the surface of their masks and accept themselves for who they are as a person.
We must empower our young boys with emotional wellness strategies from a young age that will result in long-term positive behaviour. And that’s where we come in…
The Man Cave is the flagship initiative of HeadQuarters, a social enterprise designed to increase the decision-making
capabilities of Australia’s youth and develop a deeper sense of identity and purpose in the young people we work with.
The Man Cave was founded by Jamin Heppell, Benson Saulo and myself to combat the epidemic of mental health disorders and emotional illiteracy facing Australia’s youth. We fundamentally believe that instead of crisis management and band-aid solutions, we must focus on preventative measures and mental wellness strategies that become life-long tools.
The Man Cave facilitates workshops that:
– deconstruct traditional masculinity and the role of mass media in shaping the stereotype of what it means ‘to be a man’
– develop emotional wellness and positive psychology strategies and heighten understanding of their correlation to mental health and domestic violence
– provide practical skills such as mindfulness, meditation and self-awareness to guide the challenging transition for boys into adulthood.
The program entered the market in July 2014 and has worked with hundreds of young men aged 13-19 across Victoria and New South Wales, including Tamworth where we recently kicked off the White Ribbon program for three high schools. Of the participants surveyed, 92 per cent said they’d strongly recommend the program to other students and 95 percent reported that they have developed a toolkit to maintain and improve their emotional wellbeing.
“It changed the way I think and feel.” (15 year old participant). “It is possible to break the stereotype.” (17 year old).
To ensure the overall program is effective, we incorporate among other disciplines, psychology, sociology, economics and research. But applying all these disciplines is still not enough; the all-important ingredient is creative inspiration—the skill to make an emotional connection with the boys in a safe environment.
By teaching young people to take action when they’re lonely, by changing their responses to failure, by protecting and cultivating self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, it’s possible to not only heal psychological wounds but build emotional resilience. Our youth won’t just survive, they will thrive.
Our goal is to work towards a society of gender respect—adopting new language, throwing out stereotypes, and helping boys share their true feelings. However, we can’t do this by ourselves. We need a movement of likeminded people to join in a massive collective effort if we are ever to right this ship.
Men don’t talk about these issues, and as a society we’ve looked the other way. We hope through programs like The Man Cave we can put a stop to this.
The Man Cave is headed to Darwin at the invitation of a local MP to run workshops with 70 students later this month.
Hunter Johnson is co-founder of The Man Cave and Partnerships Manager at Foundation for Young Australians. He’s also Director of Innovation at Kids in Philanthropy, Director of the Wallace Foundation, Advisory Board Member of Infinitas Asset Management, Co-Founder of Agents for Change and is a member of the Secretariat of the Nexus Australia Youth Summit. Stay up to date with The Man Cave’s progress by following Hunter on twitter:@
Read more about The Man Cave here.