Help for our boys’ mental health

“It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass, abolitionist

Recent research on men’s mental health revealed a shocking reality: Globally, one man dies by suicide every minute. In the U.S., statistics show that men die by suicide at a rate four times higher than women.

In the same bleak reality, an article published by the New York Times on Dec. 7, 2021, concerning a rare public advisory from the U.S. surgeon general office, warned the public of a “devastating” mental health crisis among adolescents. “Numerous hospitals and doctor groups have called it a national emergency, citing rising levels of mental illness, a severe shortage of therapists and treatment options, and insufficient research to explain the trend.”

These unfortunate facts introduced me to a newly released book by licensed family counselor and award-winning author David Thomas. For the past 25 years, Thomas has specialized in counseling boys and their families. His experience and studies offer incredible insight into a crucial aspect of boys’ psyche grossly dismissed by our society: their emotions.

During my interview with Thomas about his new book, “Raising Emotionally Strong Boys,” we discussed how common it is for boys to grow up with a subliminal message that pushes them into suppressing their emotions instead of learning how to manage them. Because they do not develop the tools to deal with normal feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness, many men tend to find unhealthy ways to numb their feelings. It is therefore not surprising that they also lead statistics on pornography, infidelity, addictions, and various forms of self-harm.

I do not have any experience raising boys, but Thomas’ conclusions rang true as I thought about the men in my life and the ingrained message they believed in growing up. Indeed, for generations, we have told boys to “get up and rub dirt” on their wounds and swallow the tears that threaten to fall when sadness or disappointment hit them hard. It is a message that is as loud as it is dangerous since emotions are a congenital part of humanity.

In his book, Thomas offers parents and educators remarkable insight into a boy’s mind and emotional needs and the tools they need to help boys “find their way to the full experience of being human and being fully masculine.”

It is a message as essential as it is timely. As society presses to redefine genders and challenges the lines between masculinity and femininity, Thomas points to Jesus as the perfect example and the missing link from the traditional definition of masculinity. He says: “The longer I study the person of Jesus, the character of Christ, the more I come back to how his strength was founded in tenderness, compassion, mercy and love. They were the pillars of his humanity.”

Indeed, we never find Jesus wavering from his masculinity, even though he expressed his emotions in wonderfully human and tangible ways.

Whether in his books or his practice, Thomas unapologetically leads patients and families into understanding the character of Christ as a man. His strength was defined by sacrifice, humility, compassion and love. He had close relationships with his male friends and was a defender of women. He felt anger at injustice and fear at Gethsemane.

Indeed, the gospels show us a Jesus who was entirely in touch with his emotions – he experienced humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, and unbelievable physical pain. Yet, he navigated these human experiences with compassion, patience, and strength. As Thomas said, “His life serves as the ultimate roadmap for how to be a man in this world.”

Yes, boys do cry. And they should. May we seek to learn the tools to help the boys in our lives healthily express perfectly human emotions, lest we raise a generation that feeds the sad reality of despair that the current statistics provide.

Listen to the full interview with David Thomas in Patricia’s podcast, godsizedstories-patriciaholbrook.buzzsprout.com/.

Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger, podcaster and international speaker. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithhim.com