June is Men’s Health Month in Canada, and after a year spent within the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a deservingly increased focus on mental health. It’s a cause that needs all the help it can get. While suicides are on a downward trend in Canada, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), roughly 4000 Canadians take their own life every year, and 75% of those suicides involve men. This fact is not lost on the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, who have taken it upon themselves to shine the spotlight on men’s mental health in Canada.
By: Brandon Maki
For this year’s Men’s Health Month, the foundation has opted for the theme of “Move for your Mental Health”. In order to raise funds for men’s mental health initiatives, they have organized a series of fitness classes, virtual events, and encouraged men to take on movement pledges, in which they set their own fitness goal for June. Participants can level up their participation by posting their progress on social media with #MOVEMentalHealth, and even organize Facebook fundraisers.
The foundation is encouraging people to “pull the emergency stop lever on the pandemic roller coaster”, and get on the road to better mental health by doing things as simple as yard work, walking, or riding a bike. The organization even partners with Don’t Change Much, advocating for a series of small lifestyle changes, rather than a wholesale upheaval that may be harder to maintain.
With men being disproportionately represented among suicides, the rates within marginalized communities are even more staggering. CAMH says that the lowest-income Canadians are three to four times more likely to suffer mental health issues than those in the highest-income bracket, and between 23% and 67% of houseless Canadians report suffering from mental illness.
The numbers within Canada’s Indigenous populations are indicative of a full-blown crisis, with First Nations youth five to six times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous youth. Suicide rates among Inuit youth in particular sit at 11 times the national average.
Despite the grim figures surrounding men’s mental health, barriers to improving the situation remain in place, making initiatives aiming to raise awareness all too important. Funding is inadequate, with The Mental Health Strategy for Canada recommending mental health funding increase from 7% of the national healthcare budget, to 9% by 2022.
For men in particular, stigma presents another challenge to the improvement of men’s mental health in Canada. Beliefs stemming from toxic masculinity have contributed to the false notion that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
“We have inculcated a culture in our society that men have to be tough, men have to be strong,” said Dr. Don McCreary of the Toronto Men’s Health Network, speaking to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). “Our society is very good at punishing gender deviation in men. Weakness is not considered to be masculine.”
With recent reports suggesting that more Canadians are suffering from mental health complications than ever before in the wake of the pandemic, campaigns like “Move for Your Mental Health” hold even more significance than years prior. We need to discard antiquated ideals of masculinity, and take responsibility for our mental health.
Remember, if you’re struggling, there are resources available to you. Here in Ontario, you can call 2-1-1 to find mental health supports near you. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please talk to someone you trust, or call 1-833-456-4566, toll free.
The most manly thing you can do is ask for help.