One of the tag lines that we hear time and time again about Freemasonry is that it takes good men, and it makes them better. While I would normally launch into a diatribe about why that is not happening because Masonic education is not being prioritized, I wanted to instead focus on something else that is closer to home. The issue that I wanted to focus on is Mental Health. One in five people in the United States are affected by some form of mental health issue. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml). According to afsp.org (https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/), the below suicide statistics bear out that a main demographic of our members (falling in the middle-aged white men category), are at risk for death by suicide.
- The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2019 was 13.93 per 100,000 individuals.
- The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men.
- In 2019, men died by suicide 3.63x more often than women.
- On average, there are 130 suicides per day.
- White males accounted for 69.38% of suicide deaths in 2019.
- In 2019, firearms accounted for 50.39% of all suicide deaths.
- 93% of adults surveyed in the U.S. think suicide can be prevented.
My concern is that we belong to a majority male-based organization, and that it is important to convey that we should in the exercise of brotherly love start treating Mental Health Awareness as a priority for our membership. Why? You might ask. The answer is simple, we have for the most part been conditioned as men to believe that we are not supposed to show weakness. This idea has been ingrained in us through our socialization, and the media we consume. We need to start to promote the idea that in the exercise or our brotherly love towards one another that it is okay for us to show emotion. We need to promote the idea that the lodge should be a sacred space where we should be able to talk about our feelings and our mental health and be able to lean on each other for support. While our charities in Illinois through the Illinois Masonic Outreach program (https://ilmasonicoutreach.org/) do have wonderful programs, their website does not show any resources to assist our membership with any mental health issues they might be having. In fact, a quick google search engine search with the term: Illinois Freemason Mental Health brought up the Behavioral health resources available at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, but scrolling through page after page of results, there was not a mention of the Illinois Grand Lodge. I suspect that many Grand Lodges also do not have resources in place to deal with what I feel is a health issue that directly impacts its membership.
I am one of these members. I have depression and some anxiety. I have dealt with depression for most of my life. Like others that struggle with depression, I have good days and I have bad days. I have been on anti-depressant medication for the past ten years, but it is only recently that after a long break, I again pursued behavioral cognitive therapy with the assistance of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Being a private person and being one of the men that had a false belief that showing my emotions or talking about my feelings was not being masculine; I went without seeking help for longer than I should. Recently, I reached a point where I realized that I needed help to deal with the emotions that I was feeling. Essentially, I reached a point where I decided that I could not truly use the common gavel to chip away at my rough ashlar if I was not using it in all areas of my life.
My hope in writing this article is to reach that one brother out there who might be feeling similar, and to show courage to them in saying: “You are not alone.” You have brothers you can reach out to, or if you are uncomfortable with reaching out to people you know, I want to say, I am here. Email me(firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need someone to talk to. If you are truly in a dark place, having thoughts of self–harm; pick up the phone and call 800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. I would challenge the rest of the brethren out there to not be afraid to ask your brothers how they are doing, and if you suspect something is going on with them to encourage them to open up to you. If they cannot, then encourage them to seek help and support them in that endeavor. My point is that if we are truly going to practice brotherly love, then we need to be able to use our instructive tongues to speak to one another about our emotions and use our attentive ears to listen to those that need it.