Few are untouched by the ‘mancession’
Men Overboard: You don’t have to be unemployed to have been hit by the crisis of recent years – many with jobs still feel like failures. But there are ways to make life better
Joe Brady with the Lucan Gospel Singers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Psychotherapist Tony Moore, who works with Relationships Ireland, relaxing at his home in Co Laois. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
‘We think we have to present a happy face,” says psychotherapist Tony Moore of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed men whose lives have been blighted by the recession. For him, the Stevie Smith poem encapsulates society’s inability to see past the brave face men fake out of fear of stigma.
Few people have been untouched by the crisis of the past five years, but it has affected different groups of men in slightly different ways and, by association, the people who care about them. While many of the young, educated and skilled have emigrated, many of the unemployed and under- employed men who have remained fear that, when the economy picks up, they will never make up for lost time, their best years wasted.
“Men who were 35 when the recession started are now 40. People only see potential in young people. We need to recognise that there are many men who will never get back on the career ladder. Career is a defunct word,” says Tony Moore, who works with Relationships Ireland.
Unemployment among younger men is massive, at 18.1 per cent for those aged 25-34, and 32 per cent for those aged 15-24, and younger men’s mental health issues have been much discussed in the context of suicide.
However, Joan Freeman of Pieta House says that middle-aged men in their 40s and 50s are struggling financially and emotionally, and are going practically unnoticed. This group is at a rising risk of anxiety, depression and suicide, she says.
The employment rate for men aged 35-54 touched 90 per cent during the boom, then plummeted to 75 per cent, and, although it is rising slightly, it has yet to reach 80 per cent. In addition, many employed men have had their hours and pay cut, with the number going from full- to part-time work doubling during the economic crisis.
Middle-aged women’s employment has been less affected: women have seen their employment hold steady at 65 per cent in the 35-44 age group, while those aged 45-54 actually gained jobs, with employment up 7 per cent.
Stress on relationships
While advertisers depict attractive young men with babies, this feel-good imagery isn’t always reflected in men’s self-esteem in reality. In the view of Relationships Ireland’s Brendan Madden, the stress on relationships as a result of the bust has been particularly acute for those in the early parenting years.
“In our experience, the ‘mancession’ has had a significant impact on relationships, as it has a direct effect on the traditional and still widely held view (especially among males) of the male as the significant breadwinner, especially when children arrive,” he says.
Husbands and fathers with jobs may still feel like failures. For the past two years, David, who is in his 30s, has left his wife and child behind in Dublin to work in the UK Monday to Friday, living in a small rented room. His marriage is under pressure.
“I feel I’ve let my wife down, I’m a failure and don’t know what sort of future I can give my child,” he says. He envies those who have emigrated, but his wife, an only child, has chosen not to leave her father on his own in Ireland, which means David pays the price of isolation to support his family. “I blame myself for not being clever enough to spot the recession coming,” he says.
If only . . .
This “if only” feeling – “if only I had spotted the recession, if only I had emigrated” – is key to male depression, says Moore. He knows first-hand, having become unemployed two years ago from his job in the prison service, and having worked in “menial” jobs throughout his life to make ends meet.
“I know the sense of failure is a huge, ongoing issue for men, because I’m living it,” he says. “Sharing feelings is a woman’s thing. Men do have feelings, but they are expressed in a different language. The language used in the counselling world is female-dominated. The men I work with, to understand how they feel you need to have been in that position yourself.”
Often, men cry when they come to him for counselling, saying “I wish I had never been born”. He puts his arms around them and tells them everything will be okay.
For men, having a greater role in child-rearing doesn’t compensate for a sense of failure.
“It’s not to devalue what women do,” says Moore. “Men are brought up to believe they should be the provider. Guys want to look after their family. They want to provide a secure home. And when that’s taken away, they get angry at the world, angry at themselves.”