Men’s Mental Health is Like Cars, And They are All Breaking Down

Discussing Men’s Mental Health with a Mechanic

Engines are a tricky thing.  Even simple engines can fail for a number of reasons. Dozens of components and conditions must be present and met for an engine to run correctly, otherwise, it will cease to function as intended. Imagine now, the highly complex and intricate workings of the modern automotive engine with variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation systems, computers, sensors, air/fuel ratio sensors, direct fuel injection, waste spark ignition systems and distributorless(coil on plug) ignition systems. 

If you’re reading this completely doe-eyed and confused, that’s ok. Some mechanics don’t understand how these engines and their accompanying systems work either. Then again, most people would never accuse a mechanic of being of the highest intellectual prowess and civilized vocabulary. I should know, I am one.  We’ve also never been perceived as a group synonymous with “being all there” either. Where do you think the phrase came from, “He’s not running on all cylinders if you know what I mean.”  Between being high all day from various chemical cocktails of gasoline, carburetor cleaner, ibuprofen, and beer, we also tend to be somewhat aloof of the concept of not eating a sandwich before washing the lithium grease from our hands. Our sense of humor is as famous worldwide as our ability to craft a joke from language that could only be argued as crimes against humanity or at best, repugnant cruelty to the spoken word. Mechanics are connoisseurs of the “F” word and the sommeliers of how and when to use it.  Don’t believe me? Ask one. 

We have legendary tempers while under the hood, and we know this. Every mechanic has at least one brand of vehicle that absolutely drives us to insanity… Mine is Nissan. If I wasn’t an atheist I would swear to God that Satan is real and he is currently well employed as the head sadist in charge of the engineering department.  

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, half of our time is seemingly wasted looking for the mysterious and elusive (and expensive) Snap-On 10mm socket we dropped. The remainder of our time consists of finding the tools which we threw across the shop as a result of cracking a few bloodied knuckles in the attempt to free a seized bolt from its unholy resting place, or the over-torqued bolt in the nightmare that is the aluminum engine block. How are these points relevant to men’s mental health? Allow me to explain.

Just as the list of possible causes for engine failures has increased severalfold alongside technological increases, engines, like men have also begun to break down more frequently, and more catastrophically. While elegant and functional, both men and engines share an unexpected and overwhelmingly beautiful abundance of intricate complexity. Leave just one thing out or make the wrong adjustment and they begin to fail, and eventually in the worst of cases, die and never move again. And just like in the automotive industry, the only solution to a seized engine is either to replace it or bury the vehicle in a junkyard somewhere out of town so we don’t have to look at it. Both are costly and time-consuming, but somewhere we must make the decision to either continue with the repair or throw the whole car away. Herein lies the paradox we face.  

We can’t live without men and even though some would argue they aren’t fixable, I make the argument that they are indeed worth the effort because the alternative is so unbearable to think about, I just can’t bring myself to ponder its implications. 

Men need help.  Men need help to fix themselves.  A wise man once said to me, “if we don’t fix ourselves, we’re just pissing against the wind and wondering why our pants are wet.” An analogy I could relate to on the side of I-15 while on a road trip through Idaho, as embarrassingly accurate. Yes, freeways are windy, and I was shooting in the wrong direction. Let your imagination do the work. When you pull yourselves together and stop laughing at poor 7-year-old me’s expense, let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty, shall we? 

The argument is men have it all. That we have it so easy. That we never suffer, and that we never have anything to worry about beyond sleep with it or kill it, and the world just falls at our feet, kneeling in supplication and veneration to our prodigious masculine dominance, because “tHe pAtRiArChY”.  So, allow me the honor of making you feel uncomfortable for a moment. I would apologize, but I had to research this, you have to read it. 

In 2019 of the 5,333 workplace deaths, women accounted for 437 deaths. Men accounted for the remaining 4896 deaths. Of the 8 deadliest career fields listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Men occupied every single one.

  • In September 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register for the draft. Males in the United States, are the only gender required by law to give their body and life to the government, to die, and to serve. If they refuse, they face prison time, a $250,000 fine, loss of benefits, and can never claim any federal programs or grants. There is in my mind, no doubt that there is a war on women’s bodies and their bodily autonomy as the familiar phrase, “my body, my choice” is a struggle many women fight for daily. Unfortunately, that war was lost for men in 1940, continuing into today when they turn 18. 
  • Nearly 90% of homeless youths come from fatherless homes.
  • Among rapists who were specifically assessed as raping out of anger and rage, 80% came from father-absent homes. 

Richard V. Reeves, “Saving Horatio Alger: Equality, Opportunity, and the American Dream,”  Brookings Institution,  Brookings Essay, August 20, 2014.

  • The age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate for the Veteran population increased from 25.7 suicide deaths per 100,000 in 2016 to 27.7 suicide deaths per 100,000 in 2017. The change from 2016 to 2017 is not statistically significant; however, the adjusted suicide rate for Veterans increased significantly from 2005 to 2017. After adjusting for age, the 2017 rate of suicide among women Veterans was 16.8 per 100,000, compared with 39.1 per 100,000 among male Veterans. That’s one veteran suicide approximately every 20 seconds.
  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, males experienced higher victimization rates than females for all types of violent crime except rape or other sexual assault.
  • Of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, men occupy 8 of them, including Covid-19.
  • If cis males and trans women in prison were accounted for, the statistics for rape in the U.S., by gender, would be nearly equal if not slightly higher for men. The DOJ calculated instances of rape at 216,000 per year in 2011. Outside of prison, women accounted for 213,000 of rapes in the same year. If these numbers are even close to accurate, this would be the first time in the history of recording sexual assault and rape in prisons that men will outnumber women as victims of rape and other violent forms of sexual assault. (Source)

We are the unpaid bodyguards who are expected to risk everything for the protection of family, community, and country, yet this is never mentioned when discussing the supposed benefits of “The Patriarchy”.  As a matter of fact, everyone except men benefits from this imaginary “Patriarchy”, including women, children, the military, and funeral directors. We are the disposable sex and no one cries about the trash.

There are so many more statistics that I chose to leave aside for the purpose of keeping this article readable, and while I understand some who may be reading this might feel angry or bitter at them, I want to make this perfectly clear; None of these statistics deny or presume to make the argument that men have it worse than women. If you’re making that inference, STOP. We have already moved into such a polarized era of who suffers more than the other, that we have begun to stop looking at situations with critical fair-mindedness, and quite frankly, we’ve stopped seeing human beings on all other opposing sides of our anger, political ideologies, and binary disparities. 

The consequences of those disparities have given rise to the worst kind of abject apathy to the suffering of our fellow human beings. Gay, straight, trans, bi, we just don’t care about anyone who isn’t suffering exactly like ourselves, and worse yet, we tend to go out of our way to find ways of minimizing others suffering for our own empowerment.  We have become masters of selective outrage. We have become enemy combatants, and I hate it.  

Toni Morrison once said, “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem…” Boy, did she nail that. And while the complete quote is in reference to racism, it still rings true with varied applicability.

We are all suffering from the identities we share through our varying intersections, a credit I wish I didn’t have to give to Kimberle Crenshaw. I only wish we could see ourselves and discover that while we all suffer and struggle in different ways, the differences don’t always infer different values to that suffering. Someone else’s suffering does NOT diminish yours, which brings me to this; Men and women(and trans folk alike) can work towards reducing others’ suffering without promoting this nonsense of difference. If we do so, it DOES NOT discredit our own suffering. Men can work towards reducing the discrimination and harm women are victims of. Women can do the same for men, and we can all work to reduce the discrimination LGBTQ+ individuals continue to endure.  Again, one need not kneel for another to feel taller.

Some believe all of us, yes, all men are rapists, child molesting misogynists who go to work and do nothing, come home and do nothing, do none of the house or yard work, do nothing for society except walk around in our privilege and penny loafers. That we are violent, abusive, murderous single-minded penis’ with legs who become deadbeat dads that don’t pay our fair share of child support. Of course, some men do fit these stereotypes though the vast majority absolutely DO NOT

We do not treat other demographics as if they are monoliths, so why do so with men? Some would have you believe that all men are emotionless animals that operate entirely from instinct and we can’t control ourselves. This couldn’t be further from the truth than Dodge transmissions being bulletproof.  

Men are complicated beings with complex systems running in the background at all times. Monitoring work and family expectations, kids, hobbies, bills, chores, home and yard repair and maintenance, and other demands for our time. That’s just to name a few.  In the time it took to write this paragraph, I thought about the dishes I need to wash, the fact my wife hasn’t been feeling well lately and I should go check on her, I need to double-check my son’s homework assignments, and just now I remembered that he needs to prepare his lunch for tomorrow. There are infinite situations that plague our minds constantly and there just simply isn’t enough time in the day for everything on our plate. We are consistently running out of our “spoons” and are now using the forks.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?  Ask your boyfriends or husbands if they sit in the truck for half an hour before leaving home, why they take an extra long time in the bathroom or make an excuse to go to the hardware store for something they know damn well is in the cabinet in the garage behind the extra motor oil, simply because they need some time to themselves. More often than not we just need quiet because if we don’t, we know we’ll lose control and show emotion, and no one wants to see a man lose their cool. We can be scary and we’re always aware of that association. Unstable men can be violent men, and violent men as we know should be avoided at all costs. At least that’s what we’ve been taught.

As surreal as that sounds, men do in fact have emotions ranging far deeper than given credit.  A 2018 study conducted by Kateri McRae, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Denver found that “while men and women process thoughts and feelings differently, there is no significant or noticeable difference in range of emotion.”  This goes against every traditional stereotype that women are more emotional and men don’t have them.

Men’s mental health is one of the most under-discussed and under-appreciated topics of concern to most in the western world. Even men won’t discuss the need for a conversation surrounding men’s mental health. The fact is, no one does. Women don’t want weak men and men don’t like weak men, so we all just pretend we’re ok and fake it until we make it. 

Or until we kill ourselves and everyone wonders why we did it.

 The problem is many of us aren’t “making” it. According to multiple agencies including the CDC –the Center for Disease Control in the US– those at the highest risk are middle-aged men and veterans.  Trans people are at an even higher risk and are 40% more likely to commit suicide, often due to a number of causes, the least of which is the discrimination they face daily.  This brings me to the various ways men are discriminated against.

Facebook is beginning to crack down on bullying and hate speech, but Twitter, for some unknown reason, isn’t(we know it, we just can’t “prove” it). Here’s one example of what Twitter allows on their platform and is a testament to the man-hating we’ve all come to know. Here’s the lovely Clementine Ford;

Isn’t that delightful? What a gem. I’m sure her son will look back on this fondly as a moment of maternal love. Last I looked, this Tweet was still up and Twitter has yet to remove it. So much for their hate speech rules.

Why are men the butt of these “jokes”? Well, partially because we do deserve some degree of criticism. As a collective, we haven’t been behaving well. Historically, men have done some pretty damn deplorable things. Slavery and the rape of those enslaved barely covers the gambit of violations of decency. The subjugation of women, attempting to control women’s health and reproductive rights, the conquering of land, and the slaughter of men on the battlefield have led to the enslavement of women. Even the language we use today has been co-opted to discriminate against women. The word ‘bitch’ once having been used to refer to female dogs, has since been twisted to refer to women, inferring their only worth is how much and how frequently they can reproduce.

There’s no denying the role men have played in past discrimination and even into the present for the multiple harms against women, all in the name of protecting them.  It would be reckless, misleading, and dishonest to ignore these facts. We did despicable things, and we need to own those mistakes if we are to reconcile those mistakes and move forward. 

As individuals, I think we could do better, but I don’t think that’s the point. Women haven’t exactly been peaches either. No, this is a societal problem. Just watch the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial. People are still supporting her with the hashtag ‘I believe Amber Heard’. 

Through and through, human beings tend to fall into good/bad binaries and forgo nuance. We do love those dichotomies. They’re simple, and we don’t have to expend the energy to think. Believe me or don’t believe me, it’s up to you.

Men, in their own way, helped to create and shape the way we have been and are viewed.  We value our silent strength of character over being vocal regarding our feelings and needs. Neither of those imparts any inference of weakness or fragility. To “man up” is the greatest myth we have ever perpetuated on our own behalf and has directly led to the steady increase in men’s suicide rate.

It seems no one cares what happens to men. Men’s mental health? Yeah, that doesn’t exist. Men’s support groups? Only if you live in a big city, if you’re lucky. Support for male victims of sexual abuse, child molestation, and other abuse? You would be surprised at how little work has been done and how most of that research is based on the research of girls and women. Surprisingly, there is a difference in how boys and men deal with these problems.

Some men’s advocates use the excuse that men protected women, that both sexes suffered as life was harsh and demanding, and to an extent, they would be correct. It was hell pre-1900s. The lack of antibiotics for infection, loss of the mother and/or child during childbirth, no sanitary napkins, no birth control, and no rights whatsoever aside from the Bill of Rights and some of those didn’t apply. Women by all accounts were virtual slaves to the whim of the universe and men. Sure we worked as a team, but really, who do you think the captain was? Understanding both perspectives is necessary in order to widen our understanding of the relationship between men and women.

From all of this, I hope the reader doesn’t presume me to be hateful or spiteful. I’m not. I simply move the argument forward that we have a society based on a disposable workforce and that to help women and girls, we need to save men and boys. Men need to acknowledge they are thinking and feeling human beings, and showing those feelings does not make them less than the men they are. If your complaint is all men are the problem then I ask you, does it not make more sense to help them fix themselves so they don’t become your problem?

It’s been said, “Hurt people, HURT people.” I would say, “Healthy people don’t rape, abuse, or  kill themselves or others.” Men need our help and helping men will help us all. 

Me? I want those things too, but for now, I’d settle for less closed casket funerals.

To my friend Chris, who lost his fight with depression, and all the men I’ve loved as friends and brothers who were victims of suicide, I still miss you. 

988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline

Veterans Suicide Crisis Line

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