When is our society going to wake up, seriously acknowledge and take decisive action to address the worsening crisis facing men in general, but young men in particular? It is obvious, from the evidence available, that men, for some unclear reason, are having a hard time coping with various challenges in their lives.
Many are falling through the cracks. This week, Minister of Health John Boyce revealed that three times more men than women were being admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital for mental illness. Between 2010 and 2014, the number was 876, compared with 277 women. First time admissions in 2014 were 169 men, compared with 68 women.
From a public policy perspective, a comprehensive set of targeted interventions is clearly needed to help men to cope more effectively with their challenges and, by so doing, rescue many from a current destructive path. Government must take the lead in this regard. It is the all-encompassing institution which has ultimate responsibility for the well-being of everyone.
For several years now, regional social scientists and international organizations have been drawing attention to the worrying plight of men in Barbados and other Caribbean countries. Their specific warning was that men or, to be more specific, black men, were plunging headlong into crisis. The warning obviously was not taken seriously enough. In terms of a specific policy response, little was done.
Across the region, men are steadily retreating from the mainstream of social and economic life where traditionally they have had a strong presence and their leadership was felt. Today, a lot of our young men seem be quite contented existing on the fringes of society in a subculture defined by the block, gangs, drugs and crime.
For many young men, liming on the block from sunrise to sunset seems preferable to getting a good education or finding gainful employment. Selling or taking drugs, engaging in gunfights, and getting involved in lawlessness seem to be a normal way of life. The instant stardom which young men earn from committing crime is seen celebrated in our courtyards when offenders show up for trial.
These issues speak to a complex and deep-seated problem that requires extensive investigation to come up with appropriate solutions. In the 1970s when the Government of the day was seeking to improve life for women and bring more into the mainstream of society, it established the historic National Commission On The Status of Women.
The commission held hearings across the island and eventually submitted recommendations for improving life for women. These recommendations have contributed to significant progress for women over the past quarter of a century.
The problems facing men are of such seriousness that a similar response seems appropriate. Ignoring the problems of men will be to society’s ultimate detriment. Solutions must be found.
The socialization of men is probably at the root of their challenges. Men were brought up believing that to be a man means to be strong. Being strong, from a man’s perspective, is not associated with openly expressing feelings, such as crying in public or seeking help for problems. To many men, such behaviour is seen as a reflection of weakness because it is more associated with women.
As a result, men internalize their issues, grin and bear whatever pain they are experiencing and go about their business with a façade suggesting everything is okay. When men carrying such pressures eventually crack, it is sometimes with deadly consequences not only for themselves but, unfortunately sometimes, for their partners and others.
Just as women have been effective at organizing to lobby for what they want, men too must learn to do the same. MESA –– the Men’s Educational Support Association –– already exists, but there is room for at least one or two more effective organizations to be in the vanguard articulating men’s issues and seeking solutions through lobbying the powers that be.
The focus is usually on women and children; but men too are unfortunate victims of abuse. A lot of it is verbal and emotional –– being repeatedly called “dogs that want killing”, for example.
Despite having imperfections, which women also have, most Barbadian men are generally good persons. However, it is the behaviour of a steadily growing minority that is cause for concern and is tarnishing the image of the majority. These are the ones deserving of our compassion and support to help them turn their lives around for the better.