We’ve all heard examples of ‘locker room talk’. When a group of like-minded peers come together and chat about all manner of things that might usually be deemed “inappropriate”. In Hollywood movies this type of chat is typically represented by a group of men in a sweaty locker room; adrenaline pumping post sports game. The conversation tends to include sex and performance, mixed in with bragging and strong bullying banter.
Away from the silver screen however, does the concept of ‘locker room talk’ need to be raised as a concern of ours in 2017? Given we find ourselves at the start of Men’s Health Awareness Month it’s made me think a little deeper about this phrase. There’s no denying that Hollywood’s depiction of these types of conversations is extreme; emphasised for entertainment purposes and not the level of chat that is occurring amongst most men in situations today. But there is something hidden within the common concept of ‘locker room talk’ that shines light on key issues in today’s approach towards men’s mental health.
A study of 1000 British men conducted by OnePoll revealed that 66% of those who had been through a period of feeling down or low did not approach a friend for help. For those that did speak to a friend, a staggering 92.4% revealed that it in some way helped them in dealing with their issues. This leads me to believe that the problem is not that peers are turning their back on friends who approach them with an issue. The majority are clearly willing to help whether that includes directing their friend to the right professional, sharing a similar story of their own experiences or by simply listening to the issues at hand. It would appear that the downfall with men’s mental health and their attitudes towards it rests in the stage before this; the decision by men to not speak out about their issues in the first place.
If you take a look at the stats of this OnePoll study even further, 26% of men in the survey told researchers that their reason for not opening up to a friend was that they believed it would make them appear ‘weaker’. Meanwhile a further 34.6% said they did not want their friends to think they were being ‘dramatic’. However when researchers reversed the situation and asked whether a friend coming to them with personal issues has ever negatively changed their opinion of this friend, 83% said no. If most friends are supportive of one another and have no issue with discussing mental health issues with a friend in need, why then when they are the one struggling, do the majority of men choose not to approach their peers in this way?
I’m sure the phrase “be a man” has either been said to you, been said to another in front of you or been said by you in certain situations. This phrase is often used as a way of encouraging someone to show strength in their behaviour. It is often said in times when someone is showing emotion and so it builds the correlation that to show emotion is to show weakness. It means that to continue showing weakness in the form of emotions makes that person ‘less of a man’. We are fed streams of images daily in TV, film and the media that perpetuates gender stereotypes. It would take too long to list them all here, but ultimately it comes down to society to define what makes a man. And that man is not to be ‘emotional’.
Have a moment to think about these ‘locker room talk’ scenes. They are often the moments when we see a man putting up a strong front and responding with similar banter back to his peers. They might use phrases like “be a man” and “grow a pair”. The conversation is likely to centre around sex and strength in whatever form. It is essentially an extreme depiction of what society might see as the most ‘manliest’ of chats. I’m not saying that these chats occur as depicted on screen but what is clear is that as a society, by perpetuating certain stereotypes we are subtly celebrating elements of ‘locker room talk’ between men more than we are celebrating discussions about their emotions and mental wellbeing.
Our task then is to redefine ‘locker room talk’. Let’s allow ‘locker room talk’ to include discussions of personal issues while at the same time allowing men to still be defined as ‘manly’. The two are not mutually exclusive. A man can cry, laugh, enjoy banter, reveal his issues, ask for help and still be a man. It’s as simple as that. A chat that occurs in a locker room, at a party, or during a drink down the pub does not need to have a single element of this ‘locker room talk’ for a man to retain all the elements that make him a man. Just as women can talk about their issues with peers and at the very least, retain their identity as a female, so should men. Statistics taken by the Movember foundation reveal that 3 out of 4 suicides are men which sends a clear message that society must accept responsibility and do more to combat the pitfalls of silence surrounding men’s mental health.
It appears that as a society we forget how just the simplest of phrases can perpetuate a certain image of what it means to ‘be a man’ and to not show too much ‘weakness’. Ultimately, this entire issue rests on the fact that we still live in an unequal world and although we must do everything to encourage this change, it is not going to happen overnight. Acknowledging that society has a responsibility to not encourage damaging stereotypes is just one approach in a multitude of different ways we can try to protect men’s mental health. We must champion movements such as Movember which carries an essential dialogue that a man speaking about his issues is valued and accepted. Of course mental illnesses are not simple and we cannot force a person to talk about or even acknowledge their own issues. But when even the smallest of chats could make a difference to someone we should at the very least, increase the likelihood that that person is willing to initiate a conversation.
Whatever your going through, call for free any time, from any phone on 116 123 – Samaritans