This blogpost contains discussions of suicide. Please use discretion.
You get up in the morning. You shower, shave, brush your teeth and comb your hair. You look in the mirror and you see—Superman. At least, that is who you believe you see. Another day of crime-fighting, problem-solving, and world-saving. The heavy burden of being all things to all people begins again. Only you can save the day. No one else can even imagine what you have to endure.
The Problem with Self-Sufficiency
From an early age, young men are particularly conditioned to be tough and self-sufficient. “You can do it!” “Suck it up!” “Be a man!” Society sets the expectation of the man being the family breadwinner, the security guard, the Mr. Fix-it. Literally, the “Man of Steel.” There is nothing too daunting for a man. After all, can’t you leap tall buildings in a single bound? The thought of needing a friend, a colleague, help or guidance is like kryptonite. It becomes an admission of weakness or failure. It’s to be avoided at all costs. Afraid of being perceived as “less manly,” many men choose to isolate themselves from others. Instead of searching for someone with the experience or expertise to point them in the right direction, they wall themselves off from others. They choose a path of isolation, frustration and ultimately, depression.
More than six million men in the United States suffer from depression.1 While there can be many underlying reasons for this to occur, one of the biggest culprits is the societal expectation for men to always be strong. It’s not “manly” to struggle under the burdens of the day. Additionally, often men cloak this mental struggle in terms of physical ailments. This, in effect, permits the depression to deepen. Men draw off. The downward spiral often leads to thoughts of suicide. The numbers are staggering. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for men under the age of 45 in the United States.2 Another study reported that only 35% of men, on average, sought care from a mental health practitioner in the year before they took their own lives.3
Bridging the Divide
The English poet John Dunne wrote the famous lines “No man is an island, Entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” His words were written over 450 years ago, yet many men still do not take them to heart in our society today. When confronting life’s challenges, it is critical to connect to others. Given the fact that there are over 580 million people living on our continent, there is someone near who can be a source of support and strength. You can’t simply “Google” or “You Tube” looking for all of life’s answers. You have to look outside yourself. If you believe that you are an island, you have to build a bridge to connect yourself to the rest of the world.
Seeking the help of others is not a sign of weakness. It is an essential step in problem-solving. Left to our own, we tend to try the same solution over and over again, regardless of how well it works—if it all. Psychologists even have a term for this. It’s called a psychological set. Being Superman (or maybe the Lone Ranger) isn’t efficient problem-solving. It is a consequence of the expectations that society has burdened men with and the pressure to meet those expectations.
Having a trusted second pair of eyes examine a problem enables us to get beyond our own biases and blind spots to find, not just a solution, but the best solution. Reaching out to another person helps tear down that wall of separation that we’ve built up over time. Discovering that friend or colleague will help you in a safe environment helps to de-stigmatize reaching out to others. It’s like dipping your toe in the pool to test the temperature. Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.
Connection Makes Room for Self-Discovery
A huge benefit to taking that leap of faith to seek at help is you add that new information or perspective to your array of “superpowers.” Getting timely help allows you to augment your resources of potential solutions to new challenges as they present themselves. It is even likely that you might discover that those helpful people are a lot like you. They may also feel the burden of being a superhero. They might benefit from the wealth of experiences you have had. You might even form a group of superheroes like the Avengers—or perhaps you may discover that you are all more like Clark Kent. You might have successfully built that bridge that reconnects you to the continent.
The reconnection to humanity sets you up for an exciting journey of discovery. As you begin to view yourself as a part of the whole, you are able to see the qualities that make you a unique individual. You can realistically look at your strengths and weaknesses. You can be comfortable in your own skin. You can seek out others that have complementary strengths. You can use your life experiences to become a valuable resource for others needing help.
You see, in a very real way, when you connect to others, you not only improve your day, you might actually help save a life. Maybe you are Superman after all!
1 Bruce, Debra Fulghum, PhD. “Depression in Men.” WebMD, Depression Guide (2022). https://www.webmd.com/depression/depression-men
2Walby, F. A., Myhre, M. V., & Kildahl, A. T. (2018). Contact with Mental Health Services Prior to Suicide: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psychiatric Services, 69(7), 751–759. DOI: 201700475
3Luoma, J. B., Martin, C. E., & Pearson, J. L. (2002). Contact with Mental Health and Primary Care Providers Before Suicide: A Review of the Evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(6), 909–916. PMCID: PMC5072576.
Jim Millsap is the Strong Schools Coordinator at Good Dads. He is a retired educator of 39 years, serving as a junior/senior high school math teacher and building principal. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at Missouri State University.