In 2019, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that women are almost twice as likely to seek therapy as men. While 24.7% of women sought help, only 13.4% of men attended counseling. Around 20% of women took medication compared to only 10.7% of men. It seems like masculinity and mental health don’t combine well.
Gender stereotypes claim that women are simply more emotional than men. However, a National Institute of Mental Health study reported that men commit suicide more frequently than women. Researchers could point to different factors, but these studies ultimately suggest that men suffer from mental issues — but they’re less likely to get help.
When men attend therapy, “men’s mental weakness” is, in fact, a strength. Therapy teaches them to process trauma and tap into emotions they suppressed. Once they seek help for depression, anxiety, ADHD and other disorders, they become the person they want to be — not the role society forced them into.
What Does Society Expect From Men?
Men are often forced into traditional gender roles from a young age. Even male infants have to wear blue instead of pink. As they get older, parents expect their sons to play with trucks, soldiers and action figures instead of dolls and cooking sets. Adult men have to fulfill these expectations to avoid judgment:
- Get married and provide for their families
- Have children, raising them with an “iron fist”
- Rarely show emotions besides anger
- Maintain peak physical fitness
- Enjoy “manly” hobbies, such as playing sports and drinking beer
- Avoid medical help until absolutely necessary
- Wear masculine clothes and cut their hair short
- Take charge in every situation
- Be physically attractive to women
- Have a high sex drive, losing their virginity at a young age
- Always fight back when someone confronts them
Above all, men have to avoid anything feminine. This includes wearing makeup, skirts and jewelry, crying in public, watching romantic comedies, wearing pink clothing, having long hair and letting others assume leadership positions. None of these behaviors are inherently feminine, but women experience these societal expectations, which men are supposed to despise.
Society also expects men to have distant relationships with their children. People look down on stay-at-home dads because they shouldn’t assume caretaker roles — instead, they should go to work while their partner raises their kids. Cooking, cleaning and sewing are “womanly” tasks that men should leave to their wives.
How Do These Expectations Affect Men?
When men feel forbidden to express emotions, they repress their struggles. For example, a man with anxiety might push down his worries until he starts having full-blown panic attacks. A man with bipolar disorder might pretend that cycles of reckless behavior and intense depression are normal. Depressed men often tell themselves to “toughen up” and stop caring about anything.
Men also struggle to form close relationships with others. They keep their distance from male friends, leaving them with no support system when they deal with depression, anxiety or grief. Their children may feel they can’t talk to their father about their problems. To their wives, they’re the “man of the house” who rarely shows affection.
After a while, men start to wonder if they have emotions at all. Internalizing their stress causes physical issues, such as hair loss, weight gain, rashes, muscle soreness, fatigue and teeth grinding. When they visit a clinic, the doctor can’t seem to find a cause.
Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health
Past decades glorified the “traditional man” who performed physical labor, took charge of his family, expected obedience from his wife, spent time outdoors or in the military, fought anyone who insulted him and spanked his kids when they misbehaved. While society has eased up on some of these pressures, the internet has introduced the idea of the abusive alpha male.
Online groups claim alpha men are physically and mentally fit, feeling nothing but rage toward the society that supposedly failed them. They despise women and feminism while fantasizing about having an attractive woman by their side. Alpha men are smart, confident leaders who say whatever they want. Most of all, alpha men see unassertive men as weak and competitors for women’s attention.
Leadership, physical strength and confidence are positive traits, but the alpha man narrative warps the psychology of men by playing into their insecurities. Any man who doesn’t live up to their standards is a failure. As men cling to these ideas, they become increasingly misogynistic, homophobic and full of rage. Some men become obsessed with overpowering women, especially the ones who reject them.
Going to therapy becomes a sign of weakness. As a result, they leave their mental issues untreated until depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia or substance abuse disorder overwhelms them. With no other way out, they may contemplate suicide.
Challenging the Narrative of Men’s Mental Weakness
Just seeking help challenges the common men’s mentality of “suck it up.” When men research their symptoms online, they’re already accepting that they need help dealing with their emotions. To follow up, they can find a counselor while ignoring criticism from the emotionally stunted people around them.
The responsibility also lies on society as a whole. To help men, people should adopt the following perspectives:
- Showing emotions is never weak.
- Every man deserves to show and receive affection.
- Caring for children is a strength, not a failure.
- No man is weak because of the way he dresses, talks or expresses himself.
- Men should process their feelings instead of bottling them up.
Resources for Men Experiencing Mental Illness
These organizations promote healthy masculinity and mental health:
- Brother, You’re on My Mind. This organization works with Omega Psi Phi fraternity chapters to help African American men, who have high rates of suicide, homelessness and substance abuse.
- HeadsUpGuys. Depressed men can learn about their symptoms and treatment options and find advice, therapists and support groups.
- Man Therapy. Men who are hesitant to seek therapy can find resources and combat negative stereotypes.
- MANUP?. This organization challenges the phrase “man up,” helping men find mental stability.
Why Should Men Seek Help?
Therapy and medication can solve chemical imbalances, resolve old trauma and change toxic thinking patterns, giving men a fresh outlook on life. Masculinity and mental health become positive parts of their lives instead of a contradiction.
FHE Health’s treatment programs cover depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, personality disorders, ADHD and substance abuse. When you check in, our counselors review your symptoms and medical care and design a treatment plan. Our mental health rehab and on-site psychiatric care explore masculinity and mental health. Contact us to take the first step of your journey.