TRADITIONALLY boys have always been told to “man up” and “be strong” – and this has been the narrative for many from a very young age. Born human, designed to experience all extremes of the emotional spectrum, this gender stereotyping has caused much damage. It’s cost us the lives of precious men who suffered in silence because they were denied feeling all the feelings and expressing them accordingly.

I come from an Indian heritage and I certainly grew up believing that boys had to be strong, often hearing from elders that men who talked about their feelings were abnormal. If only they knew that it is the most normal thing for any human to do – offload and talk about that which makes us human: our emotions. I can’t recall ever seeing the males in my family or community expressing sadness. I never saw them cry. As a kid, I genuinely played into the narratives. It’s especially harder for men from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds where mental health and discussing emotions is still largely considered to be a sign of weakness. Mental health carries stigma in many parts of society. Sadly it is worse for men.

It was only when I became a doctor 15 years ago that I started to see, first-hand, how much mental health affects men and how painful it always seems for them to come in to see me and speak about it. Often men have suffered alone for years at a time and it’s only when their mental health starts to encroach on other areas of their physical health, social wellbeing or their ability to work that they seek help. In a very significant and heartbreakingly high number of cases, they never seek help and we learn about their struggles too late.

More than ever, this year has challenged everyone mentally and emotionally in ways never imagined. With job losses, bereavement, parenting struggles and relationship issues, everyone has been stretched beyond their emotional capacities. It is okay to not be okay right now. It is okay to be reaching out right now. It is okay to admit that you’re finding it tough irrespective of your gender.

My wish for my patients who are struggling with their mental health, especially my male patients, is always that they had come in to see me earlier. Men have a tendency to bury their feelings. They don’t like to burden others, they take on supportive roles as care-givers and often ignore their own needs.

In our current world, we need to empower our boys from a young age to express themselves. We need to encourage them to speak up, to not feel afraid or ashamed but be proud to ask for help if needed. Vulnerability does not discriminate, nor does mental illness. It is us, the people, who place labels and divide the masses. This needs to change.

As I raise a little boy, I want him to learn about all the colours of his personality. I want him to know that if he falls, he can say it hurts, and if he cries, we’ll hold him until he stops. He talks to his daddy about their feelings and they do a check-in everyday. The future has to look different so we stop losing loved ones to the mental health crisis. These are preventable losses and the action comes from empowerment to reach out and for stigma to end.

It’s November, a month dedicated to raising awareness for men’s health. Please check in with the males in your life – however old they are – and ask them how they’re doing. Ask with the intention and space to listen. It’s something so simple but, I promise, it can make a huge difference to making them feel seen and heard.