The circular trap

The circular trap

Men are susceptible to mental health issues because of the societal pressure to be providers.

Himanshu Manglik

Today, the world is compulsively obsessed with the monster of mental health. Growing up to face the uncertainties of life, as a child, I rarely heard people worrying about stress and mental health. We played hard and some of us studied hard, while many of us hardly studied. Yet, the future did not burden us enough into submitting our spirit of risk and adventure. We grew up confident and emotionally strong.

The world has changed for the worse. Today, the statistics as well as our own experiences tell us that something has changed and that there are a large number of people who are disturbed, anxious or going into depression. We are now increasingly worried about the mental health even of young children. Sometimes, I wonder if we are getting into a circular trap that feeds on imagined fears, which in turn undermines our confidence and gradually weakens our sub-conscious. How did we let this monster loose in society.

The changing times

It is quite shocking that in 2017, more than 14% of India’s total population suffered from various mental disorders. This should be a serious concern since poor mental health creates emotional havoc and economic distress. It becomes worse when we suppress the problem for fear of social stigma and in the process, we further aggravate the problem. We forget that mental health challenges are triggered by the interplay of genetics and environmental factors. Whilst genetics is a fait accompli that requires medical intervention and I suspect that it may perhaps be a small percentage, it is the environment that can really make the difference in our ability to handle stress and needs to be addressed with a positive mindset.

The ability to handle stress, especially for men, is a critical element for their mental health. This will be put to test in the years to come. The Indian economy has been slowing down in the past few years and this will aggravate the mental health challenges. It is accepted that the state of mental health of a country correlates with its economic growth. Job losses, uncertainties, need to adapt to new management styles, the dramatically different market cycles and related issues are pulling everyone out of their comfort zones.

These can be very stressful for men, especially in a society like ours where society traditionally considers it the man’s responsibility to provide for the family. The primary burden is on the man. People may not realise it but insecurity from the environment triggers severe and continued stress, disadvantage and social isolation. Insecurity is a phantom of the mind and feeds on itself. Already, the people suffering from mental health issues in India may have shot up since 2017.

Competition and more

Over the years, we seem to have been losing control on mental health because people are unable to manage the environment. The excessive emphasis on competitive learning has shifted the focus from building the physical and emotional core of our personalities than can withstand pressures.

The conflict between expectations from us and our capabilities, the increasing fear of failure, emotional insecurities, higher aspirations of the family in a very volatile and competitive job market are just some of the factors that trap the pressures inside us. Contrary to the macho image that society has created of men, they are emotionally fragile.

Their threshold for tolerating frustrations is gradually getting lower and when there are no fissures to let off steam, it impacts their mental health. It is obvious that our operating environment will continue to put greater pressures on us. Technology is evolving rapidly and destroying the old and the familiar, and creating a dynamic environment that demands upskilling and reskilling and often leaves us vulnerable.

It will demand that people be flexible, adaptable, emotionally strong, confident, courageous risk takers and empathetic to their surroundings. Those who succeed or even survive do so because they are emotionally strong, resilient and have high FTL (frustration tolerance level).  The onus for controlling the mental health monster has to be with parents and early childhood educators because they are the ones who nurture the child and shape the values, attitudes and strengths.

Keeping it simple

When I look back at my life experiences, I realise that despite the external pressures and disparities we were emotionally secure. We knew, consciously or unconsciously, that the extended family of friends and neighbours or the joint family of relatives would find a solution when we stumbled. We learnt to take risks and developed the tenacity, capability and the courage to go forward and take up challenges.

We were ‘physical’ people who just burnt the stress with physical activities and focussed on physical endurance. We were unused to the sedentary luxury of technology and gadgets, social media and cell phones that create virtual realities and imaginary power. Unfortunately, these factors have contributed significantly to our deteriorating mental health. On the one hand exposure to economic prosperity and opulence has raised aspirations and expectations and transferred the parental pressure onto the child, and on the other hand, we have shifted away from physical activities to embrace the sedentary luxury of technology and virtual reality. In turn this has isolated us socially and we depend on imaginary and superficial networks and relationships that crumble easily under stress. The support system of joint families has also disintegrated and further isolated us socially, even as the parental involvement in nurturing the strong and healthy inner core of the younger generation has become shallower. This is weakening their foundation and reducing their ability to handle the real-world stress when they grow up.

We grew up on role models of ‘simple living and high thinking’ parents, who taught us to believe in ourselves, to be accountable for our actions, to stay true to our values as guiding principles and to have the courage to accept failures. The focus was on making us strong and resilient individuals who understood the meaning of hard work and challenges.

We have now moved to the other end of the spectrum. We are influenced by external expectations, distracted by opulence and driven by lifestyles of immediate gratification, even as we have a strong disconnect with ourselves. There is something that has changed in our very core. We have become emotionally weak.

Organisations are spending time and effort to help their employees handle stress. This is good and essential, but such efforts have only a limited and corrective role and its benefits are limited only to a few. We need to pull back and understand the damage that we are causing to mental health in our society by abdicating our responsibilities as parents, mentors and policy makers.

We are caught in a circular trap that feeds on imagined fears, undermines our confidence, weakens our core and emotional foundation and confuses our subconscious that feeds on insecurities. Managing mental health through various initiatives is a short-term necessity, but what we really need to do is to get back to basics and break out of this cycle of destruction where we have trapped ourselves.