Growing up, were you ever told (or heard someone say) that boys don’t cry?
Unfortunately, many people hold such a problematic view, believing that emotions are for girls and women, not boys and men. However, this is an incredibly harmful view, as it negatively impacts all genders. For women, it creates the stereotype that girls are irrational or too emotional.
Men, on the other hand, are told that they must be stoic and silent. After all, ‘real’ men don’t show weakness. And crying, being open about your struggles? That’s viewed as a weakness.
Yes, it is true that women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues. But it’s also true that men with these problems are less likely to receive treatment for them. Even worse? Men are more likely to commit suicide.
And why is that? Well, it’s simple: we have stigmatized mental health, specifically as it pertains to men, so men don’t seek treatment…and it can end up killing them.
As we continue to stigmatize and shy away from any discussions related to the topic, we end up telling men that they’re not allowed to talk about those feelings, perhaps not even allowed to feel them. This does nothing but add to that depression, anxiety, etc. but with the bonus negativity of guilt and shame.
This battle doesn’t lessen when someone is an artist or in the public eye. In fact, it could possibly even make it worse. There could possibly be a neurological explanation for why artists struggle with this: Dr. Chayim Newman told Rolling Stone that ‘Centers in the limbic system that control negative emotion tend to be more heavily [located] in the right side of the brain.’ What does that mean? Well, artists and creative types are generally ‘right-brained people’ who tap more easily into their feelings. Unfortunately, that’s also where all the negativity is stored.
Some of the most well-known cases of musicians with mental health issues also happen to be men. Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and Avicii are just a few men on a very long list of musicians who have lost their battles with mental health. It’s a terrible fate, something that never should have happened. And maybe, just maybe, if we fostered a better conversation about mental health, especially when it comes to men, less lives would be lost.
Luckily, there are artists who are trying to bring those discussions to the forefront.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘man up’ as ‘to make an effort to deal with something (such as an obligation or a challenge) in a way that is considered strong or manly,’ but in the context of emotions and mental health, it simply means you must bury your feelings, instead of sharing them. This is the exact opposite of what the Mental Health Foundation recommends. In fact, their first step to looking after your mental health is ‘Talk about your feelings.’ They say, ‘Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.’
A prime example of this is Kadeem Tyrell. The British R&B artist isn’t afraid to share his emotions with his audience. “I’ve struggled with depression since the age of 16 which before that started off as panic attacks,” he shared with us. “Later down the line, it, unfortunately, lead to being suicidal but thankfully that is no longer.”
With the help of family, friends, and counseling, he’s been able to fight back against those negative feelings when they start to creep in.
As an artist, Tyrell feels an obligation to his fans, who he calls his KT Family, to be open, to let them know they’re not alone, sharing that they want to feel connected to and know him. “We are a family” he says, “and if anyone in the family is feeling a way, it’s important to know you are not feeling alone.” Fortunately, his openness has received a lot of positive feedback, resonating with listeners from all over. With the ability to reach so many people through music, Tyrell says “ I’m usually approached by people who relate to my opening through my music or things I may post on social media.” He views music as a ‘connector,’ which has brought him to the attention of so many amazing people who are overcoming things and using his music to help them through.
His song ‘April 25th’ is proof of his willingness to be vulnerable. In the chorus, Tyrell describes feelings of depression perfectly: ‘The sky is grey / But I am blue / Sitting reading Angelou / Feel ashamed / Over you / What is a man meant to do?’ There’s a hopelessness there, one that goes deeper than the usual ‘I miss my ex, and I want her back.’
The song could end there, sparking a conversation on depression, but Tyrell takes it a step further, as he takes on toxic masculinity, singing, ‘Telling me to man up / Tell me what a man does? / Hide the tears, down some beers, or what? / Well I can’t deal with it like that’ and ‘I can’t pick up the phone to call my boys and say what’s wrong.’
These lines are powerful, a direct attack on the way we think of men and mental health. Think about it: as a man, have you always felt comfortable talking to your friends when you have intrusive thoughts, feelings of depression, on the verge of a panic attack? Or do you fear they will tell you to ‘man up’? According to Tyrell, “all the things that society said ‘makes a man a man’ has also played a major part in many of the same men growing up with issues because they have bottled up their emotions and felt alone throughout the walk of their struggles.”
The Mental Health Foundation goes on to completely contradict the ‘hide the tears, down some beers’ idea Tyrell talks about in his song. Agreeing Tyrell stated “Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy,” believing it’s important to find people to talk to. “Let your emotion out and ride out no matter what people may think of you in that current moment. You’re not alone.”
He also has some other recommendations to combat those negative feelings: “As depression never really leaves and has its moments, I’ve found that reminding myself that ‘this feeling will pass’ has kept me on the ball as well as doing things to help me not get into the state of depression again, from things like mood lamps, working out, and things I like to eat that make me happy.”
The stigma surrounding mental health is doing nobody any favors. We have to rid ourselves of the old ‘man up’ line of thinking. There is absolutely no shame in struggling with your mental health, no shame in asking for help, a shoulder to lean on, or just an ear to speak to. Tyrell has hope for the future though: “The men are supposed to be the protectors and providers and alongside that responsibility the emotional waves that come alongside that have been taught to be buried. Today, those views are slowly changing and men can still be a protector and provider alongside showing some sort of vulnerability.”
As musicians and other creatives bring these topics to their art, we begin to normalize these conversations, erasing the stigma, and that can only be a good thing.