There is a crisis developing in the United States around men’s mental health. Men are much less likely to seek help when they’re struggling with personal and emotional issues, and the result is alarming: One study from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that nearly 70% percent of suicides are men, and men are 3.54 times more likely than women to take their own lives.
The more we learn about men’s experience with mental illness, the more we understand the conditions that allow it to flourish. Toxic masculinity and traditional patriarchal systems in society put more pressure on men to be strong and resilient, even when they theoretically have access to the help they need. As a result, conditions like anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are allowed to worsen.
There are significant obstacles that men face when it comes to getting help for certain issues. It’s looked at as more acceptable for men to admit that they’re struggling with substance abuse and enter a drug and alcohol rehab program than to seek mental health treatment. Even when mental health resources for men are available, the stigma around asking for help keeps men from accessing that treatment.
In this piece, we’ll look some of the harmful stereotypes that keep men from getting the support they need.
Stereotypes Help Build Barriers to Treatment
Stereotypes of any kind are damaging to their subject for two reasons:
- They frame the way society views members of the stereotyped group.
- They cause members of the group to internalize stereotyped behavior.
Over time, we’ve looked at men and women very differently, and it’s had an impact. Women are more likely to experience mental illness for a variety of reasons, but studies show that men are more reluctant to seek care for their mental health compared to women.
Here are four of the most common stereotypes about men’s mental health and the reality that makes them so damaging to society:
Men Don’t Cry
Men are often regarded as less emotional than women. While there may be some truth to the fact that hormonal differences between some men and some women can cause the two sexes to experience certain emotions in different ways, generally, men are just as emotional as women.
The main difference is that very few men grow up in an environment where they’re taught that emotions are normal. Fathers are less likely to express affection to family members other than mothers due to traditional gender roles in the “conventional” family unit. Boys are taught at a young age that they need to be tough and strong, while girls are taught that being emotional is okay.
This results in a society where adult men are unfamiliar with their feelings, which can result in the development of unhealthy outlets. What’s more, one of the emotions that is normalized for young men as they grow up is anger, meaning that manifestations of emotions often take the form of violence and victimization of loved ones.
Men Shouldn’t Talk About “Real Stuff” with Friends
Women often take comfort in friendships when things get difficult. The same idea doesn’t exist for men. There’s a stereotypical scenario in which a girl’s relationship breaks up and she is immediately swarmed by friends offering support. On the other side of the breakup, boys are just supposed to shrug it off and move on.
As a result, when women spend time together, they’re more likely to bring up topics that deal with emotions and personal issues, while guys are expected to talk about sports and hobbies. This stereotype teaches young men that some topics are off-limits, which makes it difficult for them to talk to a professional about their issues when they grow up. Talking about the things that bother them has never been a natural resolution for most men.
Real Men Don’t Ask for Help
Men are taught at a young age to “tough it out” when they get hurt. When they get older, they’re told to “fight back” or “man up” when they get bullied. This ingrains the belief that if they want to be seen as manly, they won’t ask for help, even when they feel like they need it.
For men, the consequences are more far-reaching than simply not getting the help they need. When help seems out of reach, people tend to resort to other methods of coping. Trying to self-medicate to escape issues caused by mental illness is a potential path to starting to abuse drugs and alcohol, which compounds the issue instead of solving it.
This also suggests that the actual number of men experiencing mental health issues is far less than what the numbers show. There’s likely an entire population of men hiding their struggles with mental health from public discourse.
Men Don’t Suffer from Certain Conditions
These stereotypes ensure that men are marginalized in discussions about mental health, but some men have it even worse. There are several mental health disorders that are seen as “women’s conditions” — postpartum depression, certain phobias and eating disorders are a few that are subject to this belief.
But the reality is that while some of these conditions are more likely to affect women than men, it doesn’t mean that they exclusively affect one gender and not the other.
New fathers are also at risk for postpartum depression. Teens who mature more slowly and men who are less physically masculine can experience severe mental and emotional complications as a result of not meeting a standard of the “ideal male body.” Eating disorders also affect men: The Binge Eating Disorder Association estimates that 40% of people who struggle with BED are men (PsychologyToday).
How Can We Remove The Stigma?
It’s clear that these stereotypes are harmful. They contribute to the barriers that exist between men and getting the help they need. These barriers create an environment where even bringing up the topic of men’s mental health is stigmatized. Men fear being judged or even feel they may be in danger if they admit what they see as a weakness, even when it bars them from resources that can improve their lives.
The primary way that we as a society can fight these damaging perceptions is by starting public discussions about men’s mental health as a way to refute the stereotypes. As more high-profile celebrities, athletes and public figures share their stories, more people will listen. Men and boys need role models who tell them that it’s all right to look to friends and family members for support. It’s all right to not be able to handle something alone. And most importantly, it’s all right to seek treatment for mental health disorders.
Mental Health Treatment at FHE Health
Every day, we work with men who have suffered in their past due to societal stereotypes and misconceptions about the definition of true masculinity. If you or a loved one is struggling with these issues, contact FHE Health today to learn more about your options for treatment.