Why Is There Still Stigma Around Men’s Mental Health?
Men don’t cry! We obviously ALL know this is NOT true. Men do cry, men do have feelings and men most certainly should feel free to express emotions. Why is there still such a huge stigma in regards to men’s mental health? Are men supposed to be robots? Are men not human beings? Men’s mental health month is not until June, but it is never a bad time to discuss this major issue.
Mental health is not only a concern of women. Men are just as likely as women to experience mental health concerns, and sometimes more likely depending on the diagnosis. Men have just as much of a right to have feelings and emotions as anyone. How they express these feelings might be different than women, but who cares! Does the problem lie with men themselves, women, a combination, society itself or generation upbringing? There are so many components to mental health in general. I would surmise that men have an added level of difficulty when it pertains to their own mental health due to numerous factors.
As children we clearly see that men (boys) do indeed cry, have feelings and can be vulnerable. Where does this break down? Is it purely how boys are raised (old school vs. progressive)? What roles to parents have in the mental health of their children? Why are our expectations of how men should feel and act so skewed? How does sexuality play a role? Does religion have an impact? While we may not be able to answer all the questions; it’s definitely something to consider and take into account.
Let’s look at a few things that might be contributing to this epidemic.
According to PAHO/WHO, 1 in 5 men will not reach the age of 50 in the Americas, due to issues relating to toxic masculinity! What the actual fuck! This term can be generally defined as negative aspects of exaggerated masculine traits. The PAHO/WHO website also writes, “The executive summary of the “Masculinities and Health in the Region of the Americas” report highlights that societal expectations of men to be providers, to engage in risk-seeking behaviors, to be sexually dominant, and to avoid discussing their emotions or seeking help — behaviors commonly referred to as “toxic masculinity” — are contributing to higher rates of suicide, homicide, addictions, and road traffic accidents, as well as chronic noncommunicable diseases among men.”
Medical News Today reports the following:
This harmful concept of masculinity also places significant importance on ‘manliness’ based on several key indicators:
- lack of emotion
- sexual virility
They go on to report that, “According to traditional toxic masculine values, a male who does not display enough of these traits may fall short of being a so-called ‘real man.’” Overemphasis of these traits may lead to harmful imbalances in someone trying to live up to these expectations.
Some examples include:
- sexual aggression or control
- showing no emotion or suppressing emotions
- needing to dominate or control others
- a tendency towards or glorification of violence
- low empathy
- chauvinism and sexism
There are some key factors that appear to lead to this toxicity more often in males. While these traits might have been beneficial throughout history, that is no longer the case. There is a spot-on article written by Joe Duncan on Medium that covers the topic exquisitely. Guys you can be masculine without being toxic!
Here are a few examples (in my humble opinion) of very masculine men that do not display overt toxicity.
Sterling K. Brown
Robert Downey Jr.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The #metoo movement has shed some light on this, but has also confused a large majority of men. Men are finding it harder to distinguish between the lines of appropriateness and toxicity. This type of behavior can directly lead to mental health issues for men.
Boys Will Be Boys Mentality
The saying, “boys will be boys.” is a stepping stone to the aforementioned toxic masculinity. This expression advocates for careless, aggressive, or otherwise damaging behavior in young males, rather than teaching them about responsibility and owning up to their mistakes. Men and women are guilty of this. This thinking poses a significant danger as described in the linked article.
This phrase imposes that certain unacceptable behaviors are “less unacceptable” if it is perpetrated by boys. It is considered a “gendered language” and can reinforce old gender stereotypes (i.e. boys don’t help in the kitchen, only girls can wear pink, etc.), which are limiting to both boys and girls and can stay with them for a lifetime. This can even lead to other performance issues, i.e. “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading” tells children that it’s expected that they will not preform well in these types of skills. This type of mentality impacts every aspect of our society from sports, to jobs, to parenting and our relationships. END the stigma and unhealthy/unsafe double standards!
Not Breaking The Cycle
What I mean by “not breaking the cycle” is that even when some men are aware of the issues, they are not or will not do something about it. Obviously this cycle cannot be broken if the individuals are unaware that there is an issue. Girls are not the only gender that faces sexual, emotional and physical abuse. If someone is abused or has experienced trauma, there is a greater chance they will continue the pattern themselves at some point throughout their lives. If one does not choose to purposefully break this pattern/cycle they may pass this down to their children (whether inadvertently or not). This cycle plays out in all forms of relationships as well, “so and so did this to me, so I am going to treat everyone else the way I was treated” or “I’m going to treat men the way they treat me” and vice versa.
Have we ever considered that if boys are treated well, cared for, respected and listened to as children, they will become men who do the same?
Deep social disadvantage, poverty, unstable parental relationships, drug and alcohol misuse and abuse all can lead to mental health issues. Even things like how a father treats a boys mother, the way a boy is treated by his mother in regards to his sexuality and being shamed for expressing feelings can have negative consequences in the future for both himself and his future family. If you can find a way to break these cycles and improve your own lives or the lives of your children you will break the cycle.
Ultimately, it should be about finding ways to remove barriers that prevent us from making progress and growing. Talking, support and acceptance might be a good place to start. This article states, “If we tackle early on the complex mixes of trauma, depression, anxiety, developmental delay, cognitive or learning difficulties, intellectual disability and conduct disorder, we’re more likely to increase success in living, education and work and reducing the lifetime risk of offending.”
Culture also plays a role in how boys learn what is expected of them as future men. Fear plays a big part in how boys are conditioned to act more manly or masculine. Fear of failure is particularly relevant to boys. Additionally, fear of not living up to their friends or families expectations or perceptions of masculinity, fear of being labeled a “sissy” or seen as feminine in any way, fear of powerlessness, and fear of having their sexuality questioned all force boys to conform to these so-called standards of being men. These directly impact the way boys learn and what they will continue to strive for in life. If they are in constant fear of being perceived as feminine in any aspect, they are more likely to not engage in said activity or behavior. Many cultures instill these fears in boys early on.
In an article on the website Change Factory, it shows that Prof. Geert Hofstede developed a model that distinguished four primary Dimensions and a later added fifth to assist in categorizing cultures: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-Term Orientation.
I want to focus on 2 aspects. The Masculinity (MAS) aspect focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control and power. A high Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation.
He found the countries with the highest ranking are the following:
Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society. As with Masculinity, a high Power Distance Index indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society.
The highest ranking countries are listed below:
These culture aspects can make it harder for men to break the cycle. Many cultures encourage men to treat women as inferior, just like some religions encourage men to treat women and children as possessions.
Our skewed societal norms and customs for men seem to reinforce a lack of self-care and neglect of physical and mental health, as well as destructive behavior as being manly characteristics. Society does not encourage males to report abuse and/or wrong doing. Men can be victimized just as much as their female counterparts…not to mention that some offenders are women! I am not free of guilt myself, as I have done my fair share of man bashing and I have personally struck a man in the face (hangs head in shame and with regret).
Let’s be mindful with men and boys. Realize that it’s not as easy as we may think it is for them. They too have pressures, stressors, traumas, heartbreaks, betrayals, unhealthy parents, bad role models and outdated examples of what “manly” behavior truly is. Just as much as we try to protect girls, we should be doing the same for boys. If we can build better boys, they will become better men and thus it will benefit women as well. Ladies can we please end the confusing messages we send to men and boys? Stop the double-standards that we for some reason continue to allow in our society. And God forbid, if your child reports abuse…don’t ignore it!
Women can help shape their sons, but only to a certain extent. Education is key! Encourage your children (boys and girls) to think critically, solve problems, be respectful of all human beings, educate them on what is considered appropriate behavior with the opposite sex. We can teach them to care for themselves, empathize with others, identify their feelings and help them create coping skills to deal with negative emotions and rejection. We don’t want to de-masculinize boys/men, we just need more of a balance and a realization/acceptance that men have feelings too (and it’s ok to talk about it and deal with it in a healthy way).
Let’s embrace our differences and strengths (we truly cannot live without men). Real change might just come from men themselves…helping one another to be better humans overall. Let’s redefine our definitions of how men “should” be and inspire our boys to be great men. Let’s inspire our partners, brothers and fathers to be great examples and follow their passions.
Books That Will Change Our Lives
In the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which has been described as a book for finding purpose and strength in times of great despair, men have found hope, strength and inspiration. Another great book to get you or the men in your life looking at things differently is As a Man Thinketh; which describes how man is the creator and shaper of his destiny by the thoughts and ways in which he thinks.
Where do we start?
PAHO/WHO recommends the following to help improve outcomes:
- Improve, systematize and disseminate data on masculinities and health
- Develop public policies and programs for health to prevent and address the main problems affecting men through the life course
- Eliminate the barriers that prevent boys and men from accessing care
- Develop intersectoral initiatives that incorporate health in all policies, particularly in education
- Promote existing positive health practices that men already engage in
- Ensure the participation of all communities (including men, women and LGBTI communities)
- Promote capacity building on gender and masculinities for health sector workers
- Strengthen prevention and health promotion programs directed at children and young people
- Ensure that institutions, including the health sector, universities and civil society focus on preventing the impact and costs of rigid/toxic masculinities.
If we DO NOT make mental health a priority for both men and women it could have major impacts on our society as a whole. Direct risks to women and children include; violence/abuse, sexually transmitted infections, a lack of shared responsibility in the home, unplanned pregnancy and absent paternity. Risks to other men include; accidents, homicides and other violence. In light of the events of recent years; i.e. the pandemic (see how COVID-19 has impacted men), mass shootings, racial violence, classism, violence/abuse against women and children, sex trafficking, etc., we should have our eyes wide open regarding these concerns and how mental health plays a role.
Bret Weinstein (talks about social issues on the Joe Rogan podcast linked below) doesn’t directly speak on men’s mental health, but he does point out some significant break downs in society that I feel impacts men’s mental health from an early age and thus has a direct correlation that impacts all of society.
Many of these issues may have roots in the mental health and upbringing of our men.
Read the remainder of the post here.