A Dubai resident is attempting to turn the tide on male stereotypes by getting men to open up about their emotions and mental health struggles.
In October, Michael Leonard, 54, set up a free support group to encourage his peers to confront their feelings.
Each week, at a high-rise office in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, the group meets to discuss everything from secret fears to relationship woes and financial concerns.
The idea behind the Anyman group is to modernise the world’s rigid gender role expectations.
"When it comes to masculinity, society has created this pressure to look and act a certain way," Mr Leonard, a leadership coach in Dubai, told The National.
“I know women face similar pressures but I can only speak from a male point of view.
“We have to be strong, reliant and show no sign of weakness. But actually, men need to talk too.”
Leonard described the Anyman movement as a "place of support, for men by men”. And since starting the free-of-charge group, men in their twenties up to their fifties have opened up about their vulnerabilities.
From company directors to real estate brokers and teachers, stereotypes are left at the door.
“Men come to the sessions with a variety of issues,” he said.
“The most common include depression, anxiety, anger, disconnection with themselves and others, and loneliness.”
Globally, more than 264 million people suffer from depression, according to World Health Organisation figures.
While prevalence in men is often lower than women, there is a marked gender split when it comes to treatment. Males are less likely to have received help for their mental health issues, often due to societal stigmas.
And at its worst, mental disorders like depression could lead to self-harm or suicide.
According to the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, suicide rates worldwide are on the decline; but men are about eight times more likely than women to take their own life.
“I have suffered from depression. I still go through bad bouts every now and then,” Mr Leonard said.
“I have lived in the UAE for 12 years and sometimes feel lonely, disconnected, like I’ve lost my identity.
“I started the group because I want to bring men together in a safe space where we can sit and talk.”
Every Tuesday at 7pm, Leonard leads the group in a casual one hour gathering, which is limited to about 10 men.
The session starts with some mindfulness meditation, which he calls the “stopping process”. Each man then shares a 30 second introduction about how they’re feeling that day.
Mr Leonard said the shame of struggling has created a "huge barrier" for male teens and adults. And the common rhetoric that "boys don't cry" has resulted in them not processing difficult emotions.
"Typically, men struggle to open up. It's not cool to admit we don't have our life together.
"I want to break that wall down, shatter that facade.
“During the sessions we don’t judge. We don’t give advice. We simply give them a platform to fix any issues they might be having.”
Working through the five key emotions; anger, sadness, shame, joy and fear, the group aims to empower men to dig deep, open up and battle their internal demons.
“I want to empower them. If I can help one man through this group, that’s cool. I feel like this is my purpose, my why.”
For more information visit: www.any-man.com