Mental Health of Men and Boys: Beyond the Stigma

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Mental health is an important factor in everyone’s lives, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or other identities. People from all walks of life experience mental disorders like depression, anxiety, or OCD. Mental health, just like physical health, can also change over time. As with other aspects of health, some people experience severe or chronic illnesses, while others may experience fluctuations in health over time.

No matter your experience, taking care of mental health is vital for everyone. Just as is the case with physical health, unaddressed conditions can become more severe over time. However, the mental health of men and boys often goes unexamined due to stereotypes and social stigma. 

Common Mental Health Stigmas 

People of all genders face stigma regarding mental health and disorders. Common misconceptions include the idea that people experiencing mental disorders are dangerous, that a person’s mental disorder is their fault, or that if someone just tries hard enough, they can get rid of the symptoms of a mental disorder.

These do not reflect reality. People experiencing mental disorders are often more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, as they are often left without resources and ostracized from society. Like a physical illness, a mental disorder can be caused by traumatic life experiences, biological factors, or social situations. A disorder generally describes a behavior or mental process that the person cannot control, so willpower alone will not overcome the symptoms.

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What stigmas are unique to men?

Societal definitions and expectations of masculinity can cause men to experience unique stigmas around mental health. For instance, many men are taught that seeking help signifies weakness and, therefore, a threat to their masculinity. Boys and men are also frequently discouraged from showing or speaking about their emotions, putting them at risk for mental disorders and making it harder to seek treatment.

In addition, men can face stigmas if they suffer from certain mental disorders. For example, issues like eating disorders or disorders stemming from sexual abuse are often associated with women and femininity. Some men believe that “real men” do not face these disorders, making it difficult for men facing these situations to speak about their experiences and get help.

Dangers of Mental Health Stigma for Men

Stigmas around men’s mental health can have profound effects. Leaving mental disorders unaddressed or untreated can cause them to become more severe over time. It can also lead to harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or other compulsive behaviors. In extreme cases, unaddressed mental health issues can also lead to suicide. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death among men, and rates have risen since the year 2000. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.

Toxic Masculinity

The idea of toxic masculinity has been a common topic of discussion in recent years. Many discussions of toxic masculinity focus on men’s behavior towards women, but toxic masculinity also has many harmful impacts on men. Toxic masculinity describes unhealthy characteristics traditionally associated with men and masculinity. This can include stereotypes such as the idea that men are violent, power-hungry, and unemotional.

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People often, consciously or unconsciously, come to identify themselves with stereotypes about groups they belong to. For instance, men may try to suppress their emotions to fit into a paradigm of traditional masculinity. Even positive stereotypes, like the idea of men as breadwinners and leaders, can have harmful effects. Social pressures can cause people who don’t fit these stereotypes to feel isolated or have a lower sense of self-worth.

With rigid and narrow definitions, strict gender roles can negatively impact many people. They hinder our ability to connect with our authentic selves, relate to each other, and express our feelings in healthy ways.

Addressing Men’s Mental Health

Due to their severe impacts on many people’s lives, addressing men’s mental health issues is critical. This must be done at multiple levels to create meaningful change. On an individual level, people of all genders can examine the unconscious biases they hold relating to gender. For men, this may mean exploring your beliefs about mental health and asking whether they come from negative stereotypes. Recognizing societal pressures and biases can help us accept the parts of ourselves that may not fit into these gender norms.

On a societal level, we must work to change the rigid gender roles that we hold and make space for people of all identities and gender expressions. Addressing stereotypes and stigmas at the societal level will make it easier for people to talk about their experiences and seek help. We can see this process in action when looking at the developing perception of mental health in general. In recent years, discussing mental health has become less taboo, causing more people to feel comfortable acknowledging their own mental health issues and seeking help.

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