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Men’s Mental Health and the Burden of Masculinity

Updated: Mar 13

Good mental health is extremely important. While we have made very large strides in understanding mental health issues we still have work to do when it comes to men's mental health. Although both men and women are affected by mental illness, it is oftentimes overlooked in males. Researchers at The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimate that at least 6 million men suffer from depressive disorders, including suicidal thoughts, annually. However, mental health conditions among men often go untreated because they are far less likely to seek treatment than women. Untreated mental health conditions increase the risk for suicide, so it’s no surprise that suicide rates are higher among men. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men die by suicide 3.9x more often than females; 70% of suicide deaths are men. So what is preventing men from getting the treatment they need? Stigma and the culture norms surrounding masculinity are two contributing factors.

Stigma & Suffering In Silence

It’s difficult to understand the silent epidemic of mental health issues growing among men in the United States. Silent, because it’s a topic rarely spoken of, swept under the rug at both the individual level and by society at large. Stigma not only bars men from speaking to their loved ones about mental illness, but also from addressing it themselves and seeking help. Stigma affects the way men perceive mental health concerns and therapy. Common ways this can manifest is:

  • Men may struggle to express their emotions.

  • Men may not realize that they have a mental health condition.

  • Men may turn to substances or other unhealthy coping mechanisms over seeking treatment.

  • Men may believe that they can push through negative emotions or work through problematic behaviors on their own.

  • Men may have a negative opinion about the effectiveness of therapy.

  • Men might not consider seeking treatment until their mental health or behavioral issues are severe.

  • Men might have difficulties being vulnerable in therapy and connecting with their therapist. Source

Watch the video below to listen to Carson Daly and others talk about their mental health struggles.

Types of Stigma

Several types of stigma affect men’s relationship with mental health.

  1. Social Stigma refers to the negative attitudes toward and disapproval of a person or group experiencing mental health illness rooted in misperception that symptoms of mental illness are based on a person having a weak character. These perceptions can lead to discrimination, avoidance, and rejection of persons experiencing mental illness. This is usually the type of stigma that is discussed most often.

  2. Self-stigma is the internalization of social stigma, in that the person with the mental illness feels shame about his or her symptoms.

  3. Professional stigma occurs when healthcare professionals perpetuate stigmatization toward their patients through negative attitudes. These attitudes are often based on fear or misunderstandings of the causes and symptoms of mental illness.

  4. Cultural stigma involves how an individual’s culture interprets mental illness. Culture shapes one’s beliefs, values, and norms, and it directly relates to how people attribute meaning to certain illnesses. Culture also affects whether people seek help, what type of help they seek, and their coping style and support.

Specific barriers to men of color:

  • Different cultural perceptions about mental illness, help-seeking behaviors and well-being

  • Racism and discrimination

  • Issues of systemic racism such as higher incarceration rates and absence of economic opportunity

  • Greater vulnerability to being uninsured, access barriers, and communication barriers

  • Familial shame around mental health

  • Fear and mistrust of treatment

  • Lack of diversity in healthcare

  • Poor competency among non- black clinicians

  • Historical (and traumatic) context of systemic racism within the institution of mental health

Find BIPOC mental health resources here.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Masculinity According to the American Psychological Association, “Masculine ideals, such as the restriction of emotional expression and the pressure to conform to expectations of dominance and aggression, may heighten the potential for boys to engage in general acts of violence including, but not limited to, bullying, assault, and/or physical and verbal aggression.” Those are considered unhealthy or “toxic'' forms of masculinity.

Causes of Unhealthy Masculinity When there is pressure about how we must show up in the world in order to be valued or admired, those expectations do not allow for the development of proper emotional or mental health. The expectation for men is to not show emotion or cry, yet it is ok to express aggression, anger or coldness; All emotions begin to show up similarly. Sadness might start showing up as irritability or anger. All of this leads to an inability for men to understand what they are feeling and even how to properly express themselves. A lack of emotional intelligence. Additionally, many childhood factors put an individual at greater risk of displaying unhealthy masculine traits, which can include: violence or trauma at home, dysfunctional family dynamics, lack of mental health treatment, social rejection, taught behaviors surrounding male dominance and violence.

Examples of Healthy Masculinity:

  • Not strictly adhering to stereotypes

  • Understanding that being a man doesn't look just one way, there are many versions of manliness

  • Healthy expression of emotions

  • Ability to address perceived disrespect in a healthy manner

  • Healthy communication skills

  • Ability to be vulnerable

  • Has compassion for themselves and others

  • Able to ask for help when needed

  • Calls in/out other men when they are disrespectful or aggressive

According to Princeton University: “Research shows that MOST men don't personally agree with “real men” stereotypes. Unfortunately, many go along with the expected attitudes and behaviors because they think most other men endorse them. What that means is that most men actually support a fuller range of human emotions and behaviors.”

How to End The Stigma

  • Normalize Mental Health: Everyone struggles at times. And many people struggle with serious mental health issues. It's important for men to know that having mental health difficulties is part of being human and that getting help is okay. The more that men seek help, the more it will become the norm.

  • Open Discussion: If you have struggled at times, talk about your story and share your experiences with those in your life. As men start to share their experiences the more other men will begin to take the steps they need to get help, which can potentially save their life. Stigma fades as men see examples of other men they respect seeking support and choosing mental health self-care. Check out these tips for having conversations with the men in your life.

  • Educate People: The more people know the facts about mental illness and therapy, the more they’ll be able to understand their mental health, identify symptoms, and know the benefits of getting help. This includes educating men on the unique ways in which males might manifest a mental health condition and how to recognize the signs and symptoms in themselves and others.

  • Shape Future Generations: Be mindful of how you interact with boys, teens and young men. It’s important that we educate boys from a young age that it is okay to talk about and experience emotions - even crying. Let them know that everyone has emotions and teach them how to name the emotion they are experiencing. Also teach them how to ask for help when they are feeling bad.

  • Self-Care: Self-care is an important part of maintaining good mental and emotional health. Regular exercise, healthy meals, proper sleep, and relaxing activities are all vital parts of a self-care practice. Try to set priorities and goals and practice positivity and gratitude. Stay connected to your friends and family and talk openly with your trusted loved ones.

Recognizing Mental Health Disorders

Some of the mental health conditions that commonly affect men are:

  • Mood Disorders: A mood disorder is a mental health condition that primarily affects your emotional state. They can cause persistent and intense sadness, elation and/or anger.

  • Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition. Anxiety makes it difficult to get through your day. Symptoms include feelings of nervousness, panic and fear as well as sweating and a rapid heartbeat.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that may develop after a traumatic event. It causes negative, anxious emotions. Some people with PTSD relive the event over and over. Others avoid any reminders of it. PTSD interferes with life, work and relationships.

  • Mental Illness and Substance Use Co-occurring Disorders: A dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder, is when an individual has one or more mental health disorders combined with a substance use disorder (SUD). Often, mental health disorders and SUDs concurrently occur because some struggling with a mental illness will use substances to self-medicate, and substance abuse can sharply increase or even trigger new symptoms related to a mental health disorder. While co-occurring disorders can affect anyone regardless of gender, certain substance use disorders are more prevalent among men. 1 in 5 men will develop alcohol dependence during their lives.

Symptoms of Mental Disorders Often Present Differently in Men Men and women can develop most of the same mental disorders and conditions but may experience different symptoms. Some symptoms include:

  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness

  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge

  • Increased worry or feeling stressed

  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs

  • Sadness or hopelessness

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions

  • Engaging in high-risk activities

  • Aches, headaches, digestive problems without a clear cause

  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior

  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life

  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

When is it time to ask for help?

Changes in mood, changes in work performance, weight changes, sadness and hopelessness or physical symptoms such as headache and stomach ache can all be signs there may be a need for outside assistance. If symptoms last longer than two weeks and begin to get in the way of carrying out normal daily activities, it’s time to seek help.

Check out these resources specifically for men.


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