On Manning Up, Mental Health and My Mate John

It’s funny the way we speak to kids sometimes. As a teacher I find myself using variations of the theme ‘man up’ at various points of the day.

“Timmy won’t stop stealing my pencil case.” – man up…

“I left my homework at home *sob*.’ – man up…

“I don’t want to do PE because I have a hurty leg.” – man up…

There are of course differing levels of biting sarcasm that can be applied depending on the ‘coffee/time of day’ ratio.

These can include:

“Oooh, I’ll just stop everything and call your mummy now shall I? Man up.”

“You know, what scares me is that in a few short years you’ll be considered a functioning member of society with rights and a political voice. Man up.”

And my perennial favourite,

“One day, in the not so distant future, you will look back on this very moment in one of two ways. The first is where you accepted this seeming harshness as a window into the real world. You’ll say ‘it was rubbish at the time but thank god I learnt that lesson early in life’. You’ll know that resilience and grit are just as important as the grades you leave school with.

The other is that you view this as completely unjustified attack on your person and will blame me for you not doing well in this class. You’ll say, ‘he hated my guts and was mean and that’s why I left school with bad grades. It’s so unfair. If only I had the breaks. I could’a been something. Would you like fries with that?’

“If that is your response then no matter what you do the world will always knock you down. The real world has no time for whingers, finger pointers and buck passers. It will eat you up and spit you out so fast you wont know what’s happening. So man up.”

Of course the trick of the teacher is to use this level of sarcasm sparingly and to the right person.

Telling someone to man up is for the low level childish nonsense perfected by adolescents is fine. In fact, it is part of the reason why schools exist; to teach social skills that extend beyond the written curriculum.

Telling someone who needs to talk about their emotions to man up is, conversely, a massive problem.

For years, and rightly so, female gender roles have becoming increasingly fluid. It is easier now for women in the developed world project an identity that they feel comfortable with. The absolutes of maternal instincts and deferring to a man’s opinion are either completely eroded or very much in the process of being so.

This shift is less true of male gender roles. In particular when discussing emotions and mental health.

Collectively, we perceive male displays of negative emotions as being unmanly. A man who breaks down in tears is met with uncomfortable awkwardness and half-hearted platitudes. The expectation that you ‘pull it together mate’ and accept that ‘it’ll be alright’ is high. Well meaning reinforcement of the man’s way of doing things only serves to increase the sense that it is somehow weird to feel these things and downright wrong to express them.

Many men feel that they can’t discuss their emotions at all and force them inwards. Periods of intense sadness will be somehow be shaken off, it’s just one of those things, don’t make a fuss.

Just man up.

The view, perpetuated by books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, is that not only do men not want to talk about their emotions, they incapable of doing so. No, these emotionally stunted troglodytes just need to go into a man cave and be left alone whilst they eat meat and drink beer.

A friend of mine fell into this trap. His name is John Dennis and he is a rugby-playing, New Zealander who can dish out banter and rude songs with the best of them.

In 2013 he was diagnosed with depression. Initially he struggled to accept the diagnosis. Why would anyone when they didn’t really understand mental health? Like many he thought that depression was just being a bit sad that attention seekers made into an issue. A bit like a football player rolling around on the floor after having someone come within a two metre radius of their lovely hair.

After a while he grew to understand what depression meant for him and, more importantly, for his relationship with his wife and kids.

In doing so he could finally face the illness that was crippling him.

Every day he manages his depression, every day he accepts it.

Every day he mans up.

But his story doesn’t end there.

Many rugby clubs have the unofficial motto of ‘Go Big or Go Home’, it is often uttered before a match to inspire a decisive effort and again after the match when the ninth pint of warm lager is set in front of you.

John, coming from the rugby nation, has taken this advice to heart and decided to do something big.

He’s undertaking an unassisted, solo trek to the South Pole in December.

That’s right. A man with depression is going to be alone in the most hostile environment in terms of human survival for approximately 45 days.

He’s doing this to raise awareness of mental health, to help others come to terms with mental illness and to let people know that it is okay to talk about these things.

He’s doing it because despite the burden of his own illness he still has the drive to try and make a difference.

So the next time a feckless teenager moans to me about some triviality I can illustrate my sarcasm with a pretty detailed example of what I mean.

Because if what John is doing isn’t manning up, I don’t know what is.

Please do one or more of the following:

1) Donate to John’s Indiegogo campaign – every tiny bit helps and there some pretty sweet perks on offer.

2) Follow John on social media (links below) and share his story with everyone you can.

3) Repost/link to this blog or write a post about John’s expedition.

4) Take the Dare 2 Express image and show it prominantly on your blog, linking it back to John’s website/Indiegogo –  it will help spread the message far and wide.


Indiegogo: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/antarctic-expedition-one-man-one-goal

Website: expedition-d2e.org

Vimeo: vimeo.com/dare2express/videos

Facebook: www.facebook.com/expd2e

Twitter: twitter.com/expd2e


8 Replies to “On Manning Up, Mental Health and My Mate John”

  1. Just playing devil’s advocate here a little. To ‘man-up’ may not always be the way to go…7 years ago my lovely, lovely long time partner took his own life. He had suffered from depression since being a teenager and after a nasty virus it came back with a vengeance. He was a very proud man, a ‘man’s man’; he was a senior planning officer on the local council and all his life had been told ‘to grow a pair’…. It was this perception that he had about what constitutes a ‘real man’ that contributed to his downward spiral. He fretted constantly about how others perceived him, and when his illness meant he had to take leave from work, his worries over colleagues talking about him and his ‘weakness’ became overwhelming and one dreadful Monday afternoon whilst I was at work, he went down to our basement and hanged himself…he was 44 years old.

    So, whilst I agree that, at times, kids need to learn the values of being strong and not settle into whining and whinging over life being ‘unfair’, there is a very fine balance between that encouragement and teaching them that talking about their feelings and insecurities is not a ‘sign of weakness’ , particularly in adolescent boys when mental problems are most likely to start showing themselves. I wish with all my heart that those well meaning teachers in my partners life had listened more and lectured less…ultimately, even his death garnered debates of his ‘strength’ as a person, many regard suicide as a sign of weakness in itself, personally, I think it takes an inordinate amount of inner strength…I just wish he hadn’t chosen to ‘man-up’ that dreadful day….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that was the message I was going for. That men should be allowed to display their emotions and not feel that it undermines their inmate manliness. Men are expected to not express what they feel. I was trying to illustrate the point that being told to ‘man up’ has the potential to be damaging. Sorry if that didn’t come across and I’m sorry for what must have been an agonising time.


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