Our Boys And Men Are Struggling—Here's What Needs To Change

There is a growing societal movement to address the unique challenges faced by boys and men. Let’s start with their health.

By Lisa Britton8 min read
Pexels/Elliot Ogbeiwi

On May 28, 2024, Melinda French Gates made a groundbreaking announcement in a New York Times opinion guest essay, revealing her commitment to investing in gender equality and women's empowerment. French Gates has been advocating on these issues for some time. As part of her initiative, French Gates established grantmaking funds, offering 12 individuals whose work she admires their own $20 million grant-making fund to distribute as they see fit.

The majority of these funds will support women working on various issues related to female and LGBTQ issues, both domestically and internationally. What caught many by surprise, however, was French Gates' decision to allocate resources toward addressing the challenges faced by boys and men.

My friend and renowned advocate Richard Reeves of the American Institute for Boys and Men and the Brookings Institute, along with Gary Barker of Equimundo, a gender equality organization focusing on boys and men, are two of the individuals who have been entrusted to direct these funds.

For six years, I have advocated for greater attention and resources to be directed towards the struggles of boys and men. I am encouraged by French Gates' new investment in this area. While the support for girls and women remains substantial, this step toward addressing the unique needs of boys and men is significant progress.

Reeves is the perfect choice to lead this effort. His unwavering dedication to raising awareness about the challenges faced by boys and men has been both inspiring and transformative. He has succeeded in changing the narrative and approach to addressing these critical issues on a global scale.

As someone who has devoted her life to advocating for the well-being of boys, men, and fathers, I urge our problem-solvers to prioritize the urgent issue of the health of our boys and men. The suffering and mortality rates among them demand immediate attention and action. It is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. Areas such as education need to be addressed, but the mental, physical, and metaphysical health of our boys and men should be the top priority. Here's how we can help.

Boys and Men Need Our Help

The average life expectancy for men has been steadily decreasing over the years, resulting in a widening gender gap. On average, women now live six years longer than men. Yet, this concerning trend is often met with jokes rather than a genuine effort to find solutions and support.

It’s widely acknowledged that America is facing a significant mental health crisis, and finding effective solutions remains a challenge. Men, in particular, require our urgent attention and support. Numerous factors have contributed to this crisis. The most alarming evidence of our failure to address men's mental health is the disproportionately high number of men succumbing to deaths of despair. 70% of accidental drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths are men. Boys and men are four times more likely to die by suicide compared to girls and women.

Boys and men today face challenges in their metaphysical health due to distractions, external influences, addictive behaviors, and a lack of a greater calling. These factors hinder their growth and prevent them from finding purpose and fulfillment in life. Prioritizing your metaphysical well-being is crucial for a more balanced and meaningful life, however in today’s fast-paced world, it’s often overlooked or underestimated. So many are lost.

Men and the Mental Health System

We must act, but the question remains: where do we begin?

First and foremost, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge the shortcomings in our approach to men's health. We have not been effectively addressing this issue, and while governments allocate initiatives, resources, and funding to address the health needs of women and girls, the struggles faced by men and boys are often overlooked. It’s time that we bring attention to this undeniable reality: Our boys and men are in need of our support, and we are letting them down.

In recent decades, there has been a societal focus on addressing men's mental health. We should question whether the approach taken has been truly beneficial though. Instead of empowering men, the prevailing narrative has often placed blame on them, suggesting that they are inherently problematic because of their biology. This perspective implies that men need to conform to a mental health system that primarily caters to the needs of girls and women. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on whether shaming men who need help into changing is the way to go or whether it’s the mental health system itself that needs to adapt in order to effectively support men. We need innovation within our mental health system along the lines of alternative male-led and male-focused support for boys and men. Rather than just telling men to change for our mental health system, how about we change up our mental health system to better address their needs?

Male representation in the field of psychology has significantly decreased from 70% to 20% in the past 50 years.

Men and women are inherently different. When addressing the critical matter of mental health, we must recognize this biological reality. Lives are at stake. Broadly speaking, men have distinct approaches to processing emotions and confronting challenges, which differ from those of women. Instead of admonishing men for their methods and demanding change, it’s essential to acknowledge the existence of these inherent sex differences, which are not solely products of societal constructs. We must develop tailored approaches to address mental health concerns that specifically cater to the needs of boys and men with understanding and compassion, not blame and shame.

For example, a family member of mine needed mental support and guidance but was hesitant to seek help through traditional means. He felt discouraged and unsure about the typical therapist-patient dynamic, but he realized that delaying his journey to recovery could have detrimental effects on his family. Motivated by this realization, he took the initiative to find a male therapist who offered a unique approach to treatment. Instead of the conventional office setting, this therapist took his male patients on therapeutic hikes. This alternative method of care has had a profound positive impact on both my family member and his loved ones. We could greatly benefit from more innovative approaches to mental health support like this.

Male representation in the field of psychology has significantly decreased from 70% to 20% in the past 50 years. To successfully address men's mental health, it’s crucial to have more male psychologists available for support. Achieving equitable representation in fields like psychology is paramount. Funding should be allocated to programs in schools that promote and prepare young boys for careers in psychology, mirroring the initiatives seen in STEM programs for girls and young women.

Male Suicide Rate

If the suicide rates for males and females were reversed, society would undoubtedly be in an uproar. Closing the gender gap in suicide rates would become our top priority. However, because the current rates are as they are, we tend to ignore this alarming disparity. But the statistics should shake every mother and father to their core. We need to do more for our boys.

More funding is needed to establish comprehensive support programs specifically tailored to assist men navigating the difficult experience of divorce and family court, where men face a significantly higher risk of suicide. The family court system has been criticized for its biases against men, and this issue is being actively addressed by various advocacy groups, including some feminist organizations. It’s important to ensure that men and fathers are treated fairly and equally in court. This alone would save lives.

To reduce the rate of male suicide, it’s important for us to be honest, humble, and acknowledge that collectively, we have not been adequately supporting our boys and men. It’s time to embrace and love them, and we must demonstrate compassion and provide them with the resources and care they need. 

“Toxic Masculinity”

In today's social climate, boys and men are bombarded with conflicting messages. On one hand, we encourage them to express their emotions and "open up!” On the other hand, we tell them to “shut up!” and "act like a man." This contradictory messaging has contributed to the significant mental health crisis among boys and men today. The prevailing anti-male sentiment in society has played a detrimental role in exacerbating the issues. We must recognize and address the systemic and normalized discrimination against men in society, which is unjust and has a detrimental impact on them. We need to approach this issue with humility and actively work towards creating positive change with an inclusive environment that nurtures and supports everyone, including our boys and men.

The concept of "toxic masculinity" has largely had negative consequences rather than positive. While some may argue that it simply refers to harmful behavior, the term has been misused and manipulated to serve various agendas, creating the perception that masculinity itself is inherently toxic. This has unfairly stigmatized men and created the false narrative that they’re inherently toxic and are in need of change. Ironically, a term that was supposedly intended to support men's mental health has actually contributed to their declining mental well-being.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness and a shift in mindset. It’s encouraging to see that almost everyone is now aligned in recognizing the need to discard the term "toxic masculinity." However, the harm caused by this concept has already taken its toll. There is a lot of damage control to be done.

Viewing masculinity positively has a profoundly positive impact on the mental well-being of young men.

A recent groundbreaking study published in the prestigious International Journal of Health Sciences revealed some fascinating findings. According to the study, viewing masculinity positively has a profoundly positive impact on the mental well-being of young men. The researchers found that messages like mine, "We love our men!" have the power to uplift and empower young men, promoting their mental health and overall well-being.

On the other hand, the study also shed light on the detrimental effects of messaging using the term “toxic masculinity.” The researchers discovered messages that perpetuate the notion of "Toxic masculinity! Men are inherently bad!" can have a significantly negative impact on the mental health of young men. Needless to say, I don’t think we needed a study to confirm this.

The Drug Epidemic

The United States is facing a devastating drug epidemic, with an average of 295 drug-related deaths per day. These losses are primarily attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Tragically, the year 2022 witnessed a staggering increase in drug overdose deaths, with 107,941 Americans losing their lives. This represented the highest annual total ever recorded.

But there is an alarming truth that often goes unnoticed. Opioids are disproportionately claiming the lives of our men. In fact, American men are more than twice as likely as women to succumb to overdose, and it’s men between the ages of 24 and 34 who face the highest risk of dying from drug-related causes.

Reports indicate that the recent surge in overdose deaths has disproportionately affected black men. In fact, black men have now surpassed American Indian or Alaska Native men and white men as the demographic group most at risk of dying from overdoses.

Funding is needed for the development of more programs dedicated to aiding men who are battling addiction. These programs would not only provide support to those in need, but also work to raise awareness about the heightened vulnerability of men to these tragic outcomes. The programs can help family members and friends become educated on the signs to watch for and know where they can seek assistance when needed.

Physical Health

But the decline in life expectancy and deteriorating health among men cannot be solely attributed to deaths of despair. Studies indicate that men generally have poorer health compared to women, and many suggest this is primarily due to their tendency to neglect self-care. 

If we collectively care more for men and their health, perhaps they will care more for their health in turn. We need our men to care about themselves as much as we care about them! They are our partners, fathers, sons, nephews, and our friends. 

Surprisingly, there are no federal offices of health dedicated to men in the United States, while there are seven federal offices of women’s health and numerous initiatives and ample funding for women's health. Does that seem like balance, fairness, and equality?

We must prioritize men's health as well as women’s health and establish initiatives to address their unique healthcare needs. It's disheartening to witness the lack of global support for men's health, and it should prompt us to reflect on who this world truly serves most.

Metaphysical Health

Boys and men today are not only facing significant challenges in terms of their physical health and mental health, but also their metaphysical health.

In today's fast-paced world, men often find themselves easily swayed and distracted by various external factors. The allure of social media, technology, porn, and other forms of entertainment can divert their attention away from personal development. The overwhelming influx of information and opinions from the media, influencers, peers, and society at large can make it increasingly difficult for them to stay true to their own beliefs and values. This susceptibility to external influences can impede their growth and hinder their ability to seek inner wisdom and knowledge.

Another significant concern is the excessive reliance on instant gratification and the growing influence of video game culture and AI. The desire for immediate satisfaction can hinder individuals, particularly men, from dedicating their time and energy to engaging with nature, exploring spiritual practices, engaging with the opposite sex, and delving into literature for deeper understanding. Rather than seeking fulfillment through meaningful experiences and genuine connections, they may resort to temporary solutions and virtual realms.

The pursuit of material success and individualism often takes precedence over seeking a higher purpose or contributing to the well-being of others.

Boys and men greatly benefit from exploring and immersing themselves in nature for their well-being and personal development. Venturing out into nature seems to be a thing of the past in our modern world. Nature provides a unique and rejuvenating environment that allows individuals to disconnect from the pressures of daily life and reconnect with their inner selves. Spending time in nature offers numerous physical and mental health benefits, like reducing stress, improving mood, and increasing overall happiness. It also encourages a sense of adventure, curiosity, and exploration, which are essential for personal growth and development. Nature provides a space for boys and men to challenge themselves, develop resilience, ponder universal connection, and gain a deeper understanding of their own capabilities. Whether it's hiking through forests, camping, or taking a walk in a park, the beauty and tranquility of nature have a profound impact on the well-being and development of boys and men, as well as girls and women.

There seems to be a lack of a calling for something greater than themselves among many young men today. The pursuit of material success and individualism often takes precedence over seeking a higher purpose or contributing to the well-being of others. This absence of a greater calling can leave men feeling unfulfilled and disconnected. Even the concept of inner work has been distorted by our materialistic society, where the emphasis is now often placed on acquiring possessions and fulfilling personal desires. This obsession with status and abundance has infiltrated the realm of meditation and personal growth, overshadowing the true purpose of inner work.

It is of the utmost importance to address these issues and to empower men to prioritize their metaphysical well-being. By doing so, they can lead more harmonious and meaningful lives, which will have a positive impact on society as a whole.

Male Spaces As a Solution

One of the most effective ways to address all three areas of men’s health is by embracing the concept of male spaces. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, male spaces have been dismantled for various reasons, such as promoting inclusivity and addressing negative behavior. However, this approach has proven to be misguided. As a result, men today are experiencing increased loneliness and isolation, with many reporting that they lack meaningful friendships.

To rectify this, we should actively encourage the creation of male spaces and foster friend groups in every possible way, both as individuals and as a society. It is crucial to support the men in your life and encourage them to spend quality time with other men. I believe society should endorse, promote, and even provide funding for male spaces and programs. This would be a great place to start with the funding provided by Melinda French Gates.

The interconnectedness of mental health, physical health, and metaphysical health cannot be overlooked. When one aspect is disturbed, it has a ripple effect on the others. It’s important to address all three dimensions simultaneously, as neglecting men's declining health will not lead to self-correction.

For far too long, we have overlooked the challenges they face, and we are now witnessing the consequences of this neglect. It’s our responsibility to prioritize the health and happiness of men, ensuring that they are valued, loved, nurtured, and empowered to live fulfilling lives. We must promote a culture of support and inclusivity, where every individual, regardless of gender, receives the love and assistance they need to thrive and enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life.

Closing Thoughts

I am thrilled to hear that someone as influential and powerful as Melinda French Gates has recognized the importance of supporting boys and men in addition to girls and women. I have long stated that our well-being is interconnected and that neglecting one group will ultimately harm us all. This is a significant step forward, and I hope to see more leaders follow suit. By investing more love and resources in our boys, we have the potential to address a wide range of societal issues, from crime and addiction to violence and homelessness.

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