People forget the staggering statistics of human history: civilization as we know it is 6,000 years old, but humans first appeared as a species nearly 200,000 years ago. This means for the majority of our time on earth, men and women have been hunting and gathering and sleeping in caves and not much else. It was a brief, cruel, and grueling experience often requiring our ancestors to be as defensive and wily as possible to survive. If the birth of civilization could be reduced down to one motive it would most certainly be the desire for all people to work in tandem against the hardships of life rather than be continually wound up in preparation for a fight and forced to avoid all indications of being vulnerable.
We’ve come a long way from our first go at establishing societies, but what’s 6,000 years against roughly 194,000 from an evolutionary point-of-view? All the adaptations honed around the lawless majority of human history are still with us, and civilization continues to serve as a check against these negative albeit natural tendencies – violence, greed, and so forth. The man and woman of today are practically identical to the man and woman of the prehistoric era – technology and information propagation are pretty much the only changes.
What’s all this have to do with the mental health of men? Simple – men are hardwired to hide perceived weaknesses and to take great risks – sometimes at the cost of their sanity. Thousands of years ago, any indication that you were weaker than was required to preserve yourself often meant a face-to-face showdown against an adversary envious of your food, tools, or loved ones. Additionally, ensuring you and your kin were going to eat typically called for competing against beastly predators for equally fierce prey. Everyone alive today is a descendant of the prehistoric men who were masters at concealing problems indicative of vulnerability while simultaneously taking great risks to increase chances of survival. Hence the “macho” tendencies of many men to hide when they’re hurt and to shrug off danger.
These tendencies can entwine to contribute to mental health issues which are inherently difficult to fix and which statistically affect men more than women. For example, the reality of dual diagnosis for men – the presence of both a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia and a drug addiction, such as alcoholism – is far more frequent than such diagnosis for women. The exact cause of this distinct differentiation between the sexes regarding dual diagnosis is unknown, but a number of factors are certainly at play which all find route in the design of our ancestors.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, men are more likely than women to drink or do other drugs excessively, with men being two times more likely than women to binge drink and equally as likely to develop a dependence on alcohol or drugs. Men in general are willing to do risky and foolhardy behavior at a greater rate than women in part because they’re driven by biology to show off, prove strength, and succeed where others fail to attain what others cannot.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center men often exhibit symptoms of depression counter to the classic symptoms of sufferers. Instead of crying and keeping their distance, men with depression sometimes lash out, act irritably, and refuse to cooperate with others. This highly defensive reaction to their own emotional turmoil is indicative of the primal fear men experience when confronted with their self-perceived weaknesses.
Indeed, weakness is relative and hinges entirely on perception. Men refusing to confront their addictions and/or mental disorders are convinced there will be negative repercussions if they come forward with themselves and loved ones. We unfortunately live in a world where there are stigmas about drug addiction and mental disorders, but these are benign observations of the indifferent and apathetic masses. Better yet, they miss the point of “manhood” entirely. Anyone can fall back on default programming, act like their ancient ancestors, and silently ignore their mental health problems and ridiculously risky behavior. It takes real strength and honor to own up to flaws and vulnerabilities and take the proper steps toward doing something about it.
J.B. is a freelance writer who like sharing tips and helping others to be successful.
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