With the knowledge that I was going to be providing my interviewee with a probe that investigated the perceptions and misconceptions placed on men within Australia, I utilised my interview process to gain an informed and rich understanding of my interviewee’s exposure and subsequent experience with mental health as a concept. It is important to note that my interviewee explains that she hasn’t personally experienced any mental health disorders herself. However, coming from such a context enabled her to provide insightful observations and present provocative questions, genuinely, around her experience of mental health as a broader social issue, rather than a deeply personal issue.
Throughout the interview we discussed a plethora of topics ranging from a general overview of what she perceives society associates with the words ‘Mental Health’, to a more focused and personal reflection of who she feels most comfortable talking to and why that is. Perhaps the three most rich and interesting insights that were gleaned from this interview were her comments on the stigma surrounding seeking help, what makes her feel comfortable to speak to people about issues in her life and her research she conducted into the way in which nurses respond to and relate to mental health.
As the interview progressed, I noticed that notions surrounding the idea of seeking help or even discussions surrounding ones personal mental health were often entrenched by hostility and unwillingness. Not that my interviewee felt such a way, but that she perceived her age demographic of 18-25 year olds to feel such hostility to opening up. Even openly stating that “People have quite a stigma about seeking help and seeking support” and in regards to seeking help from a mental health care professional perceived to be a “last resort”. My interviewee explained that if you recommend a friend to go and see a professional then they will interpret it as if they have something wrong and cannot function in the same way as everyone else can. I find this incredibly fascinating, as it is widely, although not completely, accepted to seek a doctor if you identify a physical ailment or abnormality, yet, it is perceived as an inferiority or weakness if you seek help for sustained mental health issues. Is such a reaction evoked due to the intangible and invisible nature of mental health? Perhaps it is this absence of physical feedback that generates scepticism and complacency around seeking a healthy mental state. My interviewee expounded that she perceives such hostility to be a product of how people perceive mental health as a whole. As it is inextricably interwoven with the brain, having a mental health issue could be perceived as having a dysfunctional brain, and given the brain’s role as the system through which all bodily action and reaction is decided, such a dysfunction extends beyond your thoughts, but flows into all facets of life, be they physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual. However, what I find most intriguing is that rather than this fear prompting people to actively prioritise such an important issue and seek help, they avoid and ignore even discussing it, for fear that it is a reality for them.
Such discussion caused me to ask, “Who do you feel most comfortable turning to?” to which my interviewee replied “My mum”. When asked why this was the case, my interviewee responded by noting, amongst other things, that her mother will also tell her about how she is going. Such an interaction, she feels, provides her with a space that is much more comfortable and approachable as she feels that there is give and take from both ends. Interestingly, my interviewee stated that hearing her mother talk about her own problems “humanises” and validates the emotions that she feels as she hears the same problems being expressed by her mother. It was throughout this discussion that my interviewee and I began to expound upon why this might be a more accessible and comfortable approach to talking about issues and mental than talking to a psychologist would be. However, due to time constraints we were unable to press further into this matter, but it did provoke much thought within me and a desire for further discussion of this topic.
Finally, as the interview came to a close, I provided the interviewee with a space to raise any questions or further thoughts that she has on the subject of mental health that we had not yet discussed. At this time, she began to describe research that she has done for a university project into the way in which mental health is approached within nurses and the strategies with which you can generate wide spread change and influence. She commented that “If you focus on the right people and the right components in the support networks it can create a systemic change throughout. In the case of nursing if we target this particular person as the nurse unit manager, it will cause this trickle down effect into the wards, then into care and the patients which then effects the way in which people interact with the health care system as a whole”. After describing this strategic approach to mental health, my interviewee expressed that mental health is so encompassing and wide spread that no single strategy could be implemented that would be a fix-all, but rather that we need to devote time and effort into researching how we can understand and relate to different demographics of people, and ultimately generate tailored strategies specific to the demographic each person falls under.
PROBE: FINDINGS AND INSIGHTS
With an understanding of their perceptions and influences surrounding the topic of mental health as a broad concept, I desired to generate insights into how certain subsidiary issues within mental health presented themselves within the interviewees life. Thus, I presented her with a probe kit which would enable data relating to social stigmas surrounding the perception of men and mental health to be collated in situ.
Probe: ‘Observe and record through writing, and images where appropriate, any comments, jokes, conversations or social interactions that you come across in your life which portray men to be ‘tough’, ‘strong’ and/or stereotypically ‘manly’. This could be through interactions you have with people, advertisements, television, radio or social media.’
When conducting this probe I was thoroughly fascinated not only by the ways in which men are portrayed, but also by who instigates and perpetuates the stereotypes. Is it the media, through cologne advertisements, that tells us that men must be brooding and mysterious in order to be regarded as sexy or manly? Perhaps it is film and television which so often show men to be too proud to admit their faults or speak about who they are feeling for fear of being perceived as weak. Or is it in fact the male demographic that is feeding itself this perpetual lie by making a joke of everything or telling each other to ‘suck it up’ and not to be a ‘princess’? I found it especially exciting and fascinating to give such a task to a woman, and not a man, as I was interested to see how these stereotypes presented themselves in her life and how she observed such situations.
Ultimately, her results surprised and intrigued me, as they were not what I had expected to receive. There was far less social media influences found in her life than she had expected to see. However, I believe that, in hindsight, perhaps a factor involved in this absence of male stereotyping within social media was due to the recent hashtag ‘#itsoktotalk’ which has successfully raised awareness to the issues surrounding depression rates and suicide rates found within men.
However, one image that my interviewee found on social media gave an incredibly rich and critical insight into the landscape of mental health within the male demographic.
Not only does this epitomise the way in which society unfairly expects and labels young women to have issues, it also critically reflects upon our societal neglect of the true and legitimate issues that middle aged men are experiencing but are not feeling comfortable to speak about. However, there is a deeper insidious message that this image sheds light on; this image is a heartbreaking depiction of how men of all ages are misunderstanding the world around them. They are told by society, and by other men, that it is young women who have problems, not men, and when they do begin to notice issues arising within themselves, they should quash them and not talk about them because they don’t hear about other men having issues, thus they must be weak. However, such misconceptions leads to a vicious and perpetual cycle in which men are afraid to speak about issues and feelings that they have as they think they are the outlier, without realising that many men are experiencing the same issues and problems that they are but are also not talking about it.
This image is particularly helpful as it not only provides an insight into what men are perceived as, but also why they are perceived in such a manner. They are perceived to be without issues, because they don’t speak about issues, because they believe they shouldn’t have issues, because they are perceived to be without issues! Hence, the vicious cycle of men and mental health.
Another interesting observation that was made was the division between men and women within the interviewee’s gym. She observed: “At the gym there was a really distinct segregation between guys and girls” She found that “particularly at the weight section, dominated by dudes…” Whereas other sections such as cardio “was pretty much all chicks and a few older or smaller men…” Whilst such an observation may not have seemed to be particularly groundbreaking or insightful, it was accompanied by this comment: “ So from what I observed there was a lot of kinda standing around assessing or checking out why others were doing and lifting and stuff” Which seems to indicate that before exercises or tasks were approached by the men at the gym, there was an implicit and underlying need to compare and assess what other men were doing before they felt comfortable to follow through with their exercises. Such a snapshot provides a valuable insight into how men relate to and understand their surroundings. By comparison and evaluation, men are often striving to receive validation by the male community, which often manifests itself in a physical task, in this case, the amount of weight one can lift. This is in accordance with the scholarly texts researched previously which indicated that men are often more task and challenge oriented and also provides further understanding into why men find it difficult to speak about their emotions and feelings, as discussed in reference to the image, for when they are “standing around assessing or checking out what others are doing” they don’t often find other men speaking about their emotions, and thus do not feel permission to be able to do so either.
FINAL THOUGHTS: SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
I have found the data collected through this probe and this interview to be extremely insightful and thought provoking, it has been quite difficult and shocking to hear about the observations surrounding the current way in which men respond and relate to mental health and social stigmas, yet it has also been rewarding and enriching to be given an opportunity to hear about such a topic from a female perspective. Through the probe I was able to better understand why it is so difficult for men to talk about and acknowledge how they are feeling, as I have never had a trouble with such a matter. In addition to these insights, I have received a rich and detailed insight into how someone who does not suffer from a mental illness perceives mental illness as a broad issue. I believe that conducting the interview before giving the interviewee the probe was helpful, as it provided an objective and open space for the interviewee to talk about their true perceptions of mental health, without having the saturation and awareness that they might have had after conducting the probe.
I also found it helpful not to mention the specific nature of my probe within the interview, so that they wouldn’t feel skewed or swayed by any opinion or question that I may have asked them about male mental health within the interview as they conducted the probe.
Some elements that I believed could have been refined throughout my process were the way in which I received the results from the probe. Due to time constraints, I was not able to receive my results in person, but rather online through Facebook. I would have liked to have asked questions and pushed some insights further, as I found them to be extremely rich and helpful, but also limited given the medium through which they were communicated. Perhaps conducting a follow up interview would have been the best method to receive the data, as it could be a free flowing conversation as opposed to a single channel of communication. Another element that was completely out of my control, but would have effected the results, was the social media campaign #itsoktotalk, as this would have brought to the forefront of social conscience the importance of male mental health and perhaps influenced the way in which men were portrayed, or men presented themselves in an online platform. However, ultimately, I have found such a process to be of great worth and have found many new questions and avenues to research as I immerse myself further into male mental health and mental health as a broad, but extremely important, social issue.
SUMMARISE FINDINGS IN FIVE POINTS
- There is stigma surrounding the admission and acceptance of being diagnosed with a mental illness. This stigma being that if you admit you have a mental illness then you are admitting that you are inferior or weak.
- As a result of such perception, mental health care professionals are often seen as a last resort.
- Stereotypes of masculinity are not perpetuated by any one group of society, but rather a wide range of avenues both individual and corporate.
- Men are often striving to receive validation by the male community, which often manifests itself in a physical task, in the case of the probe, the amount of weight one can lift.
- Young people aged 18-25 find it significantly easier talking to someone who they believe will also tell them about their own problems rather than a psychologist.
Images included in this post were recorded by my interviewee who wishes to remain anonymous (2016) of the site, Instagram.
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