WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “MAN UP”?
November is National Men’s Health Awareness Month, and Saturday, November, 19 is International Men’s Day. Many of men’s physical health problems stem from mental health issues; this includes diseases from chronic stress, such as heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse disorders. Not to mention suicide.
Men are notorious for not seeking help for mental health problems. Women vastly outweigh men in seeking mental health support, but that doesn’t mean that men don’t need or want the support- it just means that they’re uncomfortable asking for it. Men love to laugh this reality off, but deep down many feel alone and desperately wish they could seek support.
75% of suicides carried out globally are by men. In the United States, white males accounted for almost 70% of deaths by suicide in 2019. Around the world, men feel alone to the point where they’d rather end their life than trust that somebody else cares enough to listen and understand their emotional needs without using it against them.
I’ve been told there is about a 7-to-1, men-to-women ratio among Mammoth locals. Mental health issues are a problem in any isolated community, but men’s mental health problems are especially prominent in Mammoth for this reason.
“Men are socialized to not know how they feel, and to consider any feeling other than anger to be a feeling that they shouldn’t share,” said Robin Roberts, Director of Mono County Behavioral Health. “What we know about humans is that, if we have at least one person that knows how we’re doing, we do better. If you come from a culture where talking to anyone about how you’re doing is not comfortable, then you suffer. In this case, men are suffering. Diseases from chronic stress start to form, and so does drug addiction and alcoholism. All of this is from not feeling connected enough to other people.”
According to Roberts, the knee-jerk reaction for men to hold their feelings inside at all costs starts during boyhood.
“It’s a practice to talk to people about how you’re doing or tell somebody if you’re struggling. It’s not something that just comes innate to any of us. There’s a lot of shame and stigma for boys who try to do this- who try to talk about how they’re doing or ask other boys about how they’re doing; you get made fun of immediately by boys who are told by adults to be insecure about conversations like that. The result is that boys grow up learning to step back and suffer in isolation,” said Roberts.
According to Roberts, though Mammoth Lakes has an abundance of men, its male social sphere is not necessarily properly connected: “There is connection through the ways in which men gather in large groups here, but it doesn’t necessarily break down that isolation between them,” she said.
She continued: “Mono County specifically has a very strong ‘bro culture’. Definitely amongst the younger men. The level of drinking and drug use is rampant and there isn’t enough ‘leaning in’ to real emotions. It’s not the norm here to ask, “How are you doing? How can I help you?’ That’s not part of the culture. So you see more risk taking, you see higher levels of alcoholism and higher levels of drug use. And I would assume -though I don’t have the data- that this behavior leads to more heart disease and more diseases that come from high levels of stress and isolation. The result is shorter life spans for the men who live here.”
Roberts says that the only way things will improve is for men themselves to set a different social standard within the community.
“Like within any group of human beings, people are more likely to talk and open up to people who also come from that group. If we had men who took it upon themselves to try to remedy this emotional isolation by initiating conversations about how they’re doing, other men would be more apt to respond and reciprocate. It doesn’t have to be some intense, formal ‘feelings’ talk. There are all kinds of ways you can ‘reach in’ that are casual. It’s just about breaking down isolation; it’s about breaking down that wall formed by stigma, and being willing to manage the ways in which you might be ostracized and made fun of for the fact that you’re asking certain questions.”
Roberts concluded: “We have this misnomer in our culture that women are in charge of feelings and men don’t have any. But we forget that anger is a feeling. For men, there’s so much anger that gets repressed until it explodes. And the thing about anger is that it’s a downstream emotion, usually a result of pain and sadness. There’s a whole bunch of other ways to describe what that feeling could be before it becomes anger.”
The Sheet spoke with a local Mammoth man who chose to remain anonymous. Originally from Bakersfield, CA, he served in the Marines Corps from 2010-2015 before moving to Mammoth in 2017. He now works as a service worker in town.
“A lot of people move here to get away from where they came from. But what they’re really trying to move away from is how that place made them feel inside. They think that getting out here to this place with fresh air and clean drinking water will change their mental health out of nowhere. But it’s actually just a crutch. It feels good for a minute, but then it wears off and they are left with themselves again. Then they realize, ‘Oh, shit, I was the problem the whole time’. And then they spiral, and Mammoth becomes this melting pot of all the bad metals who are running from themselves and enabling each other in the process,” he said.
The partying in Mammoth, mixed with the extensive, exhausting hours expected from service workers in order to afford housing, has proven to be a toxic combination- especially for local men.
“It’s either 24/7 constant partying, or you have those people who are completely sober. But there is no in between,” he explained. “For the party people, when you aren’t actively working, you’re just going from party to party, beer to beer, line to line, chasing that high to either get out of your own head or just not be here mentally at all.”
Unless someone works for Mammoth Mountain, it’s virtually impossible to seek affordable, in-person therapy in the area. “That’s ironic too, because the mountain is a big reason why we can’t afford to live here anymore to begin with, and why we’ve turned to bad coping mechanisms as a result of breaking our backs to serve the tourists in order to afford our rent. It’s just a vicious cycle, a rubber snake eating its own tail,” he said.
His rent is currently $1,600 a month. As a bartender, he often works double shifts in order to pay rent on time and keep his lights on.
He reflected on how his time in the military parallels the mental health struggles that he sees among men in Mammoth. “The Marines? It’s a boys club. It’s a drinking club with a gun problem. It’s just a bunch of people who are always trying to one-up each other. In the Marines, the competition is about toughness: ‘You think you’re tough? I’m tougher. Let’s take our shirts off and arm wrestle’. It’s this internal competition instead of trying to figure out what’s actually wrong with the world. We should be fighting the enemy, not each other.”
He continued: “I came out here to focus on myself and to look inwardly, to stand on a mountain not as a conqueror but to remind myself that I am insignificant. But I still need people. We all still need people; real people who listen, real friendships. I’ve known too many men who have either killed themselves, have attempted to, or have been on the brink of it. Recently, I was in a really bad place and I finally wasn’t scared to admit to myself that, you know what? I just need friends right now. I wasn’t ashamed to call friends up and say, ‘Hey, I just don’t want to be alone tonight’. And they were there for me. And if those friends are feeling bad, I hope they hit me up, too. I hope it’s a two-way street. If you’re feeling down, reach out to someone. And if you’re feeling an excess of love, then give it out. We’re all in this together.”
The Sheet spoke to another local Mammoth man, who worked at the Sierra Nevada Resort during the night shift for four years after leaving college where he was a fraternity president. He reflected on his experience with loneliness in Mammoth, and how he maintained his mental health: “I turned to the online world and video games. A lot of the Mammoth culture just felt too transient to make real friendships. I would make a good friend and in a few months they’d leave. And the people who stuck around felt like they were either too emotionally guarded to connect with, or part of some popularity contest. When you think about the fact that the pool of Mammoth locals between the ages of 20 something and 30 is about the size of a high school, it makes sense. So I just turned to Twitch and other gaming platforms to connect with people, since working the night shift didn’t give me any coworkers my age.”
A third local Mammoth man reflected: “When men feel alone, we slip into escapism as a way to cope with our emotions, since we’re taught that we can’t express them openly to others. Whether that’s drug addiction, fighting, being a womanizer, or whatever- we just want to connect with something, even if it means not being fully present. Ignoring our emotions is easier than dealing with them, at least in the short term. At least until they pile up…and some men completely lose their minds once they pile up too much. The irony is that, deep down, all we are really craving is love. We’re craving what we are running from. Deep down, we want to be taken care of and protected, just like every other human.”