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Event to address men's mental wellness

Traditions are usually an important trait for a community to hang on to, but when passed down norms limit a person's ability to act, feel and express emotions, some experts say it's time to do away with them.
The Mask You Live In
The issue of men’s mental wellness will be addressed in Cochrane at a film screening of “The Mask You Live In” followed by a panel discussion.

Traditions are usually an important trait for a community to hang on to, but when passed down norms limit a person's ability to act, feel and express emotions, some experts say it's time to do away with them. Dan McMillan, a mental health therapist with AHS Cochrane addiction and mental health, has helped line up a film "The Mask You Live In" and panel discussion at the Cochrane RancheHouse May 2 to address the issue of men adhering to stereotypical roles of masculinity and how it affects their mental wellness. The event is part of Mental Health Awareness week and is meant to start a conversation about the importance of men moving away from traditional masculinity in terms of handling emotions. "It just seemed like it was an important discussion to have and a discussion that wasn't happening very often," McMillan said. The aim of the evening is to raise an understanding of what a healthy version of being masculine looks like and how to do away with traits that are damaging. "Healthy masculinity is a really, really good thing. I think one example of that is just how fathers have been much more involved with childcare, with sort of the parental family duties and i think that that's a beautiful expression of masculinity," McMillan said. However, when men are closed off and resist expressing emotions or reaching out for support, it can be problematic. For example, McMillan explained men have higher rates of suicide – every four out of five deaths by suicides are by  men and eight men in Canada die by suicide every day. "There’s sort of an epidemic of loneliness among men. About 50 per cent of men over 25 can’t identify a best friend or close friend. Some of the pieces of masculinity may be interfering with our biological way of supporting our own well-being, which is to reach for social support when we’re not doing so well and to talk about things that are hard for us and bothering us," McMillan said. McMillan will be joined by Micheal Kehler, the first professor to bring a "masculinities" course to the University of Calgary earlier this year,  on a panel of experts who will discuss boys and men's mental wellness tomorrow evening following the screening. According to Kehler, adhering to the traditional values of what it means to be a man – inexpressive, emotionless, aggressive – is unhealthy for men's mental health and the community as a whole. "We need to acknowledge the opportunities to be other than the stereotypical boy, the stereotypical girl. We need to acknowledge that what we once thought was a biological, natural way of being female and male is no longer the case," Kehler said. "It's a negotiation away from those very simplistic, very linear ways of thinking about men to much more of a deeper, richer understanding of men as being able to show their emotions, men as being expressive, men as being good listeners, men as being understanding and empathetic and sympathetic." Perceptions of masculinity may change from region to region, Kehler explained, and rural areas may be more likely to hang on to old values. He said it's important to acknowledge that a region's traditional heritage – like Cochrane's western background – doesn't go away when men and society accept modern ways to view men. "You can also be on a farm or be a cowboy but also say, 'I’m very attentive to the way I look. I purposely choose certain clothes' and it doesn’t necessarily connect you to being gay. It doesn’t connect you to being in a certain, limited kind of masculinity. It actually acknowledges your ability to think more complexly about being a man in different spaces," Kehler said. "We really need to say that the realities of our lives, of students, of our children are very different from what they were 15, 20, 30 years ago when we just operated from the premise that men are one way and women are another way." Kehler said allowing society to take on more fluid roles in gender allow for better relationships between sexes. "That binary, that polarity, which is usually premised on a win-lose situation and women were always on the losing end of those kinds of gender relationships," Kehler said. The changes in perceptions of what men and women's behaviours and roles look like has to be worked on in all areas of life, especially for children, he explained. "It has to be done in schools with teachers, it has to be done at home with children, it has to be done in workplaces around the culture of acceptable interactions," Kehler said. "We need to sort of acknowledge the fact that those workstations and our home spaces are negotiable for being men in a more fluid kind of way. That we don’t need to adhere to these limiting rules and norms that once were thought to be the only way to be a man and the only way to prove to others that you’re a man." Kehler said he hopes the conversation tomorrow night will open up perceptions of "masculinities." "I hope to really engage in a really healthy conversation about changing times, about changing understandings of masculinity, to think about it more deeply about how can we support youth, how we can support men to be other than that what which we’ve always expected," he said. "There’s a whole, broader repertoire of ways for being a man. And that’s what this movie should provoke." The event will run tomorrow evening, May 2, at 7 p.m. at the Cochrane RancheHouse. The partnership for the event is between Cochrane Addiction and Mental Health, AHS; Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS); Cochrane Parent Link Centre with the Town of Cochrane; Cochrane Community Helpers Program with FCSS; and Cochrane Boys and Girls Club. Seats are limited so those interested in attending are advised to register. To register call 403-851-2250 or visit Please indicate if you need transportation. Anyone looking for support for their mental health or addicition can contact the Cochrane addiction and mental health intake line at 1 (877) 652-4700.