Man is not a being who stands still, he is a being in the process of becoming. The more he enables himself to become, the more he fulfills his true mission.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this post.
Recently, a Grade 11 student at our local secondary school took his own life. The community is reeling. Many are grieving. Many are angry. Many more are asking why. We will never know the truth about the pain and anguish that the young man felt so deeply in his heart and mind that he choose the ultimate relief, but we all know that it will (all too sadly) happen again.
The statistics all but guarantee it.
The suicide rate among North American male and female teens continues to rise. In Canada, the statistics for teens (14-19 years) experiencing depression and harbouring suicidal ideations are frightening. The rate of suicide among millennials (22-37 years) is predicted to increase over the next decade as unsupported mental health issues overwhelm the demographic and service providers. Research demonstrates clearly that if the predictors of suicide are recognized early on in the cycle and interventions are promptly put in place we would put a significant dent in those numbers.
The statistics do not lie. Depression and suicidal ideations are greatest among males 18-24 years of age. We still continue to become disconnected from our youth. Or our youth continue to disconnect from our society. Critics cite the meteoric rise of single parent families (mother balancing a dual role), greater social expectations of masculinity fueled in large part by social media, and added pressures of the transitional years entering into adulthood including its profound physiological and psychological effects. Such factors (and there are others) contribute to volatile, depressive, unpredictable, and often harmful behaviours among our youth.
The same study concluded that “experiencing negative social interactions and perceived ability to deal with stress” are factors that lead to increased suicidal ideation among youth. Anxiety among young adults and youth is at unprecedented levels, and yet support services are sorely lacking, ineffectual or altogether nonexistent. Parents are looking to schools for support. Schools in our province are looking to governmental agencies like the Ministry for Children and Family Development and Interior Health to lean on. Government agencies seem to be continually scrambling to allocate appropriate resources. The game never seems to change.
Over the past two decades as an educator, parents, youth mentor, and advocate, I have observed that an increasing number of our young male youth are missing fundamental ingredients necessary for a healthy transition from childhood into adulthood. These elements, found in most indigenous cultures worldwide, appear to have evaporated over the past quarter century (which coincidentally parallels the rise of Internet use, the birth of social media, and its unwitting role in increasing anxiety among our youth) in North America. Our society is suffering dramatically from a lack of connection and identity faced by male youth.
Many of our boys are struggling. Struggling with finding identity. Most of the inner strife operates at a subconscious level, and frequently a crisis of morality (like a run in with authorities) reveals the true damage wrought. Psychologist, attachment theorist, and author, Gordon Neufeld, contends that the internal conflict often occurs in the absence of a healthy connection to a role model, guide, and/or mentor. Unless raised in a family bound strongly to its religion or other relevant cultural/institutional context few opportunities exist for male youth to experience a rite of passage. It is a fundamental human requirement be acknowledged through a coming-of-age transition into adulthood And it is profound.
Many indigenous cultures did (and still do) provide opportunities or rites of passage for their youth that declare to the newly anointed male that he has arrived as a man in our society and through a process has left one group (childhood) to enter into another (adulthood). The former youth now hold status within their society through a recognition that the contribution and purpose they possess matters to the greater fabric of the society in which they exist. It is a call to responsibility. In essence, it is the possession of a healthy and purposeful identity.
If we do not initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat.
Saving the Village
Last month, I attended a community meeting who’s the sole purpose was to connect and discuss how we might best provide opportunities for our boys. Opportunities for mentorship. Connection. Rites of passage. The circle consisted of parents, community outreach workers, and those wanting to help “make good men”. What struck me most was that the nexus for the gathering was our local women’s centre. Yep.
Our local community advocate for women had become the largest advocate for our boys and youth. Beautiful. Ain’t it? The Centre recognizes the bigger picture and the long lasting impact of a healthy male population within our community. More to the point, the Centre’s program director was adamant: “Our boys needs this [support]. Our community needs this. We all benefit from this important work.” Word.
Grateful. Yep. That’s how I feel. Grateful that there exists within our community another community dedicated to supporting for our male youths. One such individual is my friend and colleague, Gabriel Keczan. Gabriel is organizing a rites of passage opportunity for boys in our community. He is offering bursaries so that financial concerns are not a barrier for families wishing to have their youth participate. If something around this resonates with you (like reducing violence against women and children) please consider supporting our community boys rites of passage event this summer.
Our young men-in-waiting are…
So is our community.