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Redefining What It Means To “Be A Man”

When it comes to the topic of men’s mental health, even a cursory investigation into the issue yields sobering results. According to Mental Health America, a “community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness,” six million American men suffer from depression every year, men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide (men over 85 are at the highest risk), and 1 in 5 men will develop alcohol dependency during their lives. 

“I do think we have a crisis around male mental health,” said Avi Klein, a New York City-based psychotherapist, via email. “To pick a more broadly generalizable statistic: even as women’s health outcomes across serious diseases have improved over recent decades, men’s health outcomes for the same diseases have stayed the same.”

To grow up male in America is to become inured to phrases like, “grin and bear it,” “suck it up,” and of course, “be a man.” Whether echoed by fathers, coaches, or friends, these sayings are handed down generationally and help enforce the myth that stoic, taciturn men are real men. So it comes as no surprise that a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health concluded that, “Compared to women, men are less likely to seek help for mental health difficulties.”

For a lot of us...we're still breaking away from what we've always thought of as the masculine norm, which is that we're always strong, we always got it figured out, we don't talk about our feelings.

“For a lot of us, I think we're still breaking away from what we've always thought of as the masculine norm, which is that we're always strong, we always got it figured out, we don't talk about our feelings,” observes Jesse Israel. In his 20s Israel certainly seemed like he had already figured things out: as an NYU sophomore he started a record label to sign what would become the multi-platinum selling band MGMT. But as Israel tells it, the life of a successful record executive, and later tech investor, came with unmanaged stress and frequent panic attacks. 

Seeking relief, Israel began meditating. That led him to create a meditation group for friends and like-minded New Yorkers, and in time, The Big Quiet. Billed as “mass meditation movement,” The Big Quiet draws from Israel’s time in the music business by transforming iconic venues, like Madison Square Garden, into meditation spaces where thousands of people gather to sit in silence and then experience a musical performance. 

“It makes sense to me why wellness, and exploring the various layers of our mental health, [is something] a lot of men don't connect with until they're given permission to go there,” says Israel, who took The Big Quiet on tour with Oprah last year. “Once we access it, we're able to talk about the real shit that's going on in our lives. There's actually a level of camaraderie and brotherhood, deepened, grounded masculinity that comes from that space.”

Finding a connection with other men is exactly what Lucas Krump was seeking when, after the death of his father and a decade of living abroad, he returned to the States. “I looked around for different types of organizations or different things that existed,” says Krump, “and quite frankly, I was like, where are the normal dudes?” 

Krump found those “normal dudes” in Owen Marcus, Dan Doty, and Sasha Lewis, who co-founded Evryman in 2017, a “community of men for men.” Evryman’s weekly meetings, held across the country, create safe emotional spaces for men to dive deep into whatever trauma, hang-ups or anxiety they’re experiencing. “I think for men, a lot of our stress, a lot of our mental health comes from our inability to relate to our emotions,” Krump observes. ”I truly believe that emotions are our superpower as human beings and it's the biggest, most untapped muscle that we have. Nobody's taught us how to use it, relate to it, and develop it.”

I truly believe that emotions are our superpower as human beings and it's the biggest, most untapped muscle that we have. Nobody's taught us how to use it, relate to it, and develop it.

When pandemic-induced lockdowns began last year John Pearson suddenly found himself grounded for the first time in his 35 year modeling career. But the time off allowed him to get a long simmering project off the ground with friend and journalist Pete Samson: Mr. Feelgood

“We're trying to demystify what it means to be a traditional, archetypal man,” explains Pearson. “We don't want to take away any of the strengths and the positives, but we really want to open up the discussion so that those of us that struggle—who aren’t alpha, who aren’t leaders of the pack—can be inspired and included in the conversation, which aims to benefit everyone in the long run.

With posts like “Are We Man Enough,” “The Five Best Plant-Based Meats,” and “How To Find Sustainable Menswear Brands Online,” Mr. Feelgood delivers a more enlightened take on the men’s lifestyle genre. (You can even read about that time Pearson was in George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90” video.) “I sort of see it as like a kind of campfire hub for discussion, debate, discourse, conversation, trust, and love,” says Pearson. 

If men holding space for each other and working on their emotional intelligence still seems like a radical act, perhaps that says how are we, as men, have to go. But the good news is that we no longer have to go it alone. “The answer is very simple,” Klein says, “learn how to feel your feelings! If you can feel your feelings, and then do something with that—ask for help, set a boundary, cry over a breakup—you will feel better.” 

For more on Feals' commitment to destigmatizing mental health check out our co-founder Alex Iwanchuck's op-ed in the Hill on "Why Men Should Speak Openly About Their Mental Health" here.

Michael B. DoughertyMichael B. Dougherty Brooklyn-based writer; follow him at @runmbd.

Likes: Dogs, hot sauce, and Maine hikes.
Dislikes: Cats, bananas, and NYC traffic.