#ifeelyoubro : Talking About Asian Men’s Mental Health in These Increasingly Challenging Times

The legendary 2020 pandemic that we are going through now has put many men under unprecedented pressure of life.

I’m not an exception.

It is such a lie to say that I’m not affected by the pandemic. I do get affected by the global public health menace and I don’t deny that my mental health is at a certain extent impacted as well.

How much bump has it left on my psyche? That’s another story to tell.

But last night, I deliberately joined a virtual talk on men’s mental health held by Calm Collective in Singapore, moderated by Luqman Mohamed (co-founder of Calm Collective), and featuring Juffri Mok (video content producer/ DJ), Titus Ting (early childhood professional) and Jaye (music artist).

The talk was described as the first installment of #ifeelyoubro series. This is a place “where we have open conversations about mental health from a male point of view to show that it’s okay for men to open up and talk about their feelings.”

The talk was held as we’ve seen an alarming surge of suicide cases among men around the world. BBC wrote about this last year (read more here: Why more men than women die by suicide), which confirms the claim that across the world, men are more at risk for suicide yet less likely to talk about their mental health and ask for help.

One of the simplest questions to learn our mental health is: “When the last time did we cry?“. You can ask this seemingly sensitive and un-manly question to our male friends or relatives.

It’s really hard for men NOT to cry these days. They may have lost their jobs. They may also have lost their savings. They may have lost their homes. They may have lost partners, children, or beloved ones due to Covid-19. They may have lost their spirit of life as an accumulated consequence of all these things.

Asian masculinity

I don’t know about any other societies, but in the US men do suffer a lot from toxic masculinity. NPR has discussed the issue in “How Toxic Masculinity Affects Men” and somehow I can relate to this phenomenon even though I’m living my whole life in the Indonesian society which is totally different from the American one but still shares the same views towards masculinity.

In the US, as NPR puts it, boys usually have close friends but as they grow up and enter puberty, they lose these close friends gradually. That loss might be caused by an obligation of academic pursuits or other major life events (marriage, for example).

As a result, these young men grow lonely. They might be staying in a dorm with classmates or such but their souls are lonely as they lack intimacy in their childhood friendships.

As grownup men, they are taught implicitly by the society around them that showing emotions is prohibited and manly. A real man don’t hold hands with another man because that looks gay. Strangely enough, girls can do that (and even more, they can hug and kiss each other) and they are less judged.

In Asia, men do go through the relatively similar situations. Asian men are taught to follow parents’ wishes and they can be really tough in this department compared to parents in other cultures (correct me if I am wrong).

Yet, at the same time Asian men also want to live a life in which they can be themselves.

Conflicts may arise when parents and sons have dissenting opinions on how sons’ lives must be led.

Jaye shared that he shed tears for a friend who came to him to tell this kind of story, which is common amongst Asian sons.

Speaking of how Asian families address mental health issues at home, Titus acknowledged that his family treats it as “an elephant in the room”. Though it’s there, its existence is not recognized until things get really bad and hence, irreversible and unfixable.

As an Asian men myself, I also agree with Titus, that Asian families don’t usually bring mental health issues as dinner topics.

Parents and sons’ conversations are hardly ever about mental health but more about events and achievements at school or at work or in life. Talking about emotions and feelings is just way too sensitive and thus left unaddressed and suppressed. We all know this can be a potential time bomb in the future.

Tips to take care of men’s mental health

There are many ways to take care of our mental health, such as:

  1. Have a supporting system: Some men are lucky (or unlucky) enough to live with their families. If one is not in this situation, then find a friend or two who are trustworthy and dependable enough. That way, a man can have a supporting system.
  2. Find an outlet: For those who don’t have partners yet or families around them, then now it’s the time to learn how to express their emotions and feelings through arts, such as writing, music, or such. Rediscovering an old hobby might be good. This creative endeavor may help us channel this negativity out and create balance in mind.
  3. Work out: Some men think exercise is a nonsense. But in these times, they find the opposite. They truly appreciate the ability to just walk around the neighborhood because staying at home all day long is maddening, not to mention all the workloads while we are working from home for almost the entire waking hours.
  4. Meditate: Jaye advised that men should consider meditating as one of their tools to maintain mental health.
  5. Immerse yourself in nature: Mother nature has offered us the cure since a long time ago but we are so ignorant. Reconnect with nature by walking in woods or at a nearby park in the morning to get the sense that you’re not alone and the earth is not what is going on in our mind.
  6. Have a nonjudgmental zone: Related to a supporting system, this zone can only be created with people you feel most comfortable to talk with.

This talk only lasted less than an hour, which was I think way too short for panelists to go deeper into the issue. But as a starter, it was a blast. At least for me. (*/)

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