November is Men’s Health Awareness Month and CMHA, Alberta Division was lucky to sit down with Next Gen Men’s Youth Program Manager, Jonathon Reed. We discussed Next Gen Men’s work, his personal philosophies and what a brighter future may look like for a cornerstone of men’s mental health: youth support.
In recent years, troubling trends have been observed in men’s mental health, including youth; suicide is the leading singular cause of death in teenage boys in Canada – outpaced only by the more general category of “accidental death” – and men as a whole account for three-quarters of all completed suicides. For organizations like Next Gen Men, the work to alleviate this building pressure takes fostering community, space and supports for boys while expanding on what it really means to be a man. But what does this men’s mental health crisis look like in Canada’s youth?
“It really starts to spike in late adolescence…around that same time – 15, 16 years old – boys start to lose the depth of the relationships they once had. That’s the same age when suicide rates start to rise,” Jonathon says. Studies reported by Statista agree; just after the age of 14, teen boys’ suicide rates rise dramatically. “We have these pressures about what it means to be a man – to suck it up, to be tough…I’ve got to ride this out on my own, and I can’t ask for help.”
The Stigma Struggle
When it comes to men’s mental health across all spectrums – be it youth, men, workplaces or otherwise – the common threads of stigma, an emphasis on self-reliance and the view that asking for help is a weakness surface again and again. Boys’ mental health is no different in this regard: “One of the biggest barriers to mental wellbeing for boys is just how hard it is to ask for help…[A] big piece is the societal expectation that to be a man, you’ve got to handle your own.”
Being beholden to the traditional definition of masculinity can be isolating and harmful for young boys as they navigate regulating emotion and developing habits, but Jonathon is quick to clarify that Next Gen Men’s vision doesn’t involve dismantling or reinventing masculinity:
“It’s less about redefining and more about expanding the realm of possibility for what it means to be a man. There are times when you’ve got to be strong – there’s times where confidence and toughness are valuable traits to have. Expansion means that’s not the only way to be a man. How do we figure out that you can simultaneously be strong and be gentle? Be competitive, and be loving? It’s being able to hold more space for these boys so it’s not just one or the other.”
Next Gen Men’s Role
Next Gen Men provides safe spaces, workshops, programs and mentoring that help teen boys build upon their own perception of what it means to be a man, as well as workshops that help equip educators to be positive masculinity leaders in their schools and communities. With offerings like a Discord server for boys in grades seven to nine to meet up, build community and show support, Next Gen Men tries to reach boys where they are and create spaces they’re comfortable using. But how do you reach a demographic that tends to resist vulnerability and the act of seeking support?
“The most obvious thing is relationship. For a young person to be known, and to know the best parts of them are validated by caring, sensitive and committed adults,” Jonathan says. “That work has to take place long before any sort of crisis happens. It’s putting in the time and energy day-by-day, so that when they’re in a situation they aren’t capable of handling on their own, they already have someone that has their back.” Jonathan also cites finding ways to support boys that “don’t undermine their sense of status as men.” When he talks about building supportive relationships with young teens, core values of trust, investment and just being present lead the way: “A supportive relationship doesn’t happen by accident.”
When asked about the future that Next Gen Men envisions for mens’ relationship with masculinity, Jonathan recalls their mission statement: “A future where boys and men experience less pain and cause less harm.” In his own words, Jonathan phrases it as “A future where boys and young men are comfortable within themselves and connected with others.” This goal, he posits, is beneficial to everyone; from developing consent culture, to healthy wellbeing and relationships, the broad-reaching ripple effect of developing a more positive relationship between young men and masculinity is hard to quantify.
“If you’re confident in who you are, and you’re connected and sensitive to the well-being of others – bam. You have a better world.”
For more information on Next Gen Men, the work they do in various areas of men’s mental health and programs and workshops available to your community, visit nextgenmen.ca.