As a community-oriented psychiatrist, making mental health matter more in communities is something I am extraordinarily passionate and often ideating about. I was today year’s old when I found out that June is Men’s Mental Health Month so naturally a focus on mental health impact has shifted more to the fellas. Men’s Mental Health is such a vast topic and there is so much work to be done in terms of transforming how we, as men, and masculine-identifying people approach our emotional wellness. In a world where men are often so focused on appearing strong, in control and avoiding any semblance of vulnerability, making mental health matter by challenging the tendency to perform these less than healthy behaviors in the name of masculinity is needed.

Though on the surface these ways of thinking about our masculinity and manhood are thought to be outdated, for too many of us they are still very much at play. So often these ways of being are so deep rooted we don’t stop to think about how they can be damaging, dehumanizing and present a struggle that not only inhibits us from connecting to the self-awareness that is so necessary to nurture our mental health, but can also be a direct cause of mental stress. There exists a particular level of avoidance and repression required to hold on to that way of thinking. Facets of how we connect to the idea of masculinity can be harmfully performance-based without allowing for a full expression of our humanity. Indeed, being human regardless of gender requires support, nurturing and the vulnerability to get our mental health needs met.

Most of the relevant anecdotes I share with people I work with address the importance of remaining compassionate with ourselves and curious about everything. Those of us who are tightly wed to the idea of being a tough guy may not fully hear or accept the messages within the anecdotes . But if being a healthier, happier, more present man or masculine-identifying person is a priority, then connecting more deeply with our humanity calls for going beyond some of the rigid ideas of masculinity.

What if the true definition of being a man or masculine-identifying person were based on how well we love, support and take care of ourselves and each other? Imagine a real paradigm shift in ideas around strength and courage being rooted in the fortitude it takes to ask for help or to express and explore our emotional world. It’s hard enough out here dealing with systems that don’t value our humanity, we certainly don’t need to assist in devaluing ourselves.

We must be much more intentional about nurturing and celebrating our full human experience. What if the text threads were a little less about money, sports and dating and more about sharing how we struggle and how we heal? What if we cry when we need to cry, and reach out to ask for help when we need it, and express our emotions early and often? Imagine how that paradigm shift might not only improve our overall emotional health, but rather improve our physical health as well, by reducing stress-related disease and morbidity. Imagine how this shift might reduce our rates of harmful lifestyle choices we often engage in trying to self-medicate during times of pain and stress. This shift would make for a more peaceful world with less violence and less involvement with the criminal justice system. This shift would allow space for men to more easily engage in deeper forms of healing – from therapy to even just going to the doctor routinely for checkups. This would allow us to be better fathers, sons, husbands, uncles, granddads, friends, etc. which is what our loved ones truly deserve. Most importantly, the shift to a more emotionally aware form of manhood and masculinity would allow space for us to connect with the best versions of ourselves and truly live our best lives – which is what we ourselves truly deserve.