It's okay for men to cry and show emotions, say mental health experts
Harry recently revealed in an interview that post his mother’s death, he had behaved as if nothing had happened. He sought professional help four years back. Pics/AFP
Look up Prince Harry on the internet, and among the links that pop up are his 'best bad boy' and 'most controversial moments' — wearing a Nazi Swastika to a gathering, partying nude in Vegas, getting into brawls with the media and so on. Spoilt royal brat, or was that his way of dealing with loss? Earlier this month, the 32-year-old royal revealed that after the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, he behaved like nothing had happened, literally "sticking my head in the sand." It was only four years ago that he sought professional help after continuous urging from his older brother Prince William.
Princess Diana and her son Harry watch the march past on a dais as part of the commemorations of VJ Day on August 19, 1995
Prince Harry isn't alone. While we, in India, struggle with freeing the mental illness of taboo mostly brought about by its depiction in our movies, it is still easier for women to cry out their mental or emotional traumas. Indian men aren't lucky.
Recognise, acknowledge and deal
Rony D'Costa, 40, a media professional who suffered from depression a few years ago, says his low phases had started during his teenage years. "My parents weren't equipped to deal with it. Being depressed then meant being 'sad'. I would become antisocial, snap out of it eventually and get on with life," he explains. Later in 2007 when he felt stagnated in his job at a TV channel, the symptoms hit harder. "Waking up and going to work became impossible. But like in my teenage years, I simply took some time off and later rejoined work." It was only in 2013 when there was a personal setback that D'Costa acknowledged that he needed to seek professional help. For a year and a half, he attended the sessions religiously, meditated thrice a day, went for walks until he felt braced and ready again.
Today, D'Costa says he is a lot more resilient and ready to take on challenges head-on, unlike his earlier self. He adds that if he had found help in his growing years, he would have had a less complicated mindset. "The damage that occurs in adolescence should be recognised and dealt with right then, or it ends up affecting you later in life," he says. This doesn't often happen, which D'Costa puts down to lack of awareness, and the general expectation of 'strength' from the Indian male.
Only girls cry?
Clinical psychologist Sonali Gupta agrees. "The general conditioning is that men are not supposed to deal with emotions," she explains. Not just Indian culture. Prince Harry thought talking about his mother would make him sad, so he ought to embrace life and 'move on' instead. Maybe that also had to do with the fact that he belonged to an illustrious royal family famed for their stiff upper lip, and not prone to emotional outbursts. Or maybe not. The average Indian male is similar in some ways. Vaijayanti Albal Sharma, 38, writer and mother of a three-year-old talks of when her son's classmate once cried after a fall in school. The father of the boy chided him because "you are a boy, not your little sister to cry." Sharma says, "I didn't approve of the comment. I instantly told my son his friend wasn't wrong. If one is hurt, physically or mentally, it's okay to cry. Bottling up emotions only makes people aggressive" she asserts.
Which probably accounts for the numbers as well. The national mental health survey released in October 2016 by NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) reveals that one in every 20 Indians suffer from depression, and that the mental morbidity is higher among men at 13.9% than women (7.5%). Both men and women suffer from emotional problems requiring psychological attention but in men, seeking help is equaled with weakness.
Through his emotional characters, Shah Rukh Khan told us that it was okay for the Indian male to vent
Psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria feels sexist conditioning affected the Indian male until the last decade. "Then, Shah Rukh Khan began crying on screen and men decided it was okay to come clean with their emotions," she says. Earlier, expressing emotions was seen as a feminine thing to do, while men would resort to other means to deal with sorrow.
When women talk of themselves, they also analyse, but men usually talk of their problems in one line, never as conversations. Gupta agrees with this, and emphasises that there has been a positive trend in the past few years. "Today, I see 25 clients a week, nearly 10 of them male." The reasons why men seek help are also heartening. "Some suffer from depression or mental traumas, but many also come to me to become emotionally sensitivein their relationships," she says.
Prince Harry's coming out of the emotional closet has no doubt sparked off an empathy towards male emotions. One hopes that an Indian male celebrity will come out too in the near future (Deepika Padukone spoke of her depression a couple of years ago). Until then, we have SRK's tears to fall back on.
Men and emotions
Dear men, please...
- Express yourself: When upset or hurt, seek out the person, confront him/her. At the very least, unburden yourself to a friend; a female friend, if possible - they're most often very good listeners.
- Open up: Vulnerability does not mean weakness. It means you are strong enough to accept that you're in pain.
- Cry about it to get over it: You need to go through something to get over it. Believe it or not, tears help achieve closure.
Signs if he needs help
- He stops interacting socially and withdraws into a shell
- He has anger outbursts and becomes irritable.
- He prefers to stay put and browse through social media or is stuck to the TV all day, generally aimless.
- He indulges in excessive drinking or smoking.
- An extra-marital affair too can be a pointer towards mental health issues.