Certain societies seem to have imposed boundaries on the concept of masculinity. However, masculinity is an experience that changes from person to person, with everyone having a different goal in exploring what masculinity means to them.
What did you grow up thinking masculinity is?
What is your perception of it today?
How does your culture approach masculinity and femininity?
How does your gender affect your approach and relationship with masculinity?
The conditioning of gender roles starts very early, ingrained in culture as well as religion, leaving blueprints in our minds as we grow up about what ‘masculinity’ should be. Tied with masculinity is a sense that men are strong, problem solvers and providers. This has created a stigma around men and mental health because of this need to identify with a warped concept of the masculine.
In the past, mental health has been associated with weakness and fragility, this making it inaccessible to the men who value and associate themselves heavily with the culturally adapted masculine identity. For those men, speaking of mental health emanates a sense of weakness: that a man is not stronger than his own mind. Yet what makes us if not our minds?
If a man is feeling depressed, anxious, powerless and vulnerable, how does he cope with such emotions?
There is a strong tendency to look towards suffocating those feelings, suppressing them through alcohol, drugs or sex – pretending that they do not exist and other such negative coping mechanisms. Men will find a way to prove to themselves that they are not ‘weak’, finding a protection mechanism that will help them feel validated through other people’s appreciation.
Big boys don’t cry.
Globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide. In the United Kingdom, 60% of suicides are men. Not only do men suffer from depression, anxiety, loneliness, bipolar, eating disorders and other mental health issues, they also suffer from the pressure of their gender role, the ‘masculine’. It’s a double blow that leaves many men vulnerable and unable to speak about their pain, feeling suffocated by both their minds and the rigid architecture of masculinity.
What does mental health mean to you?
Do you feel a stigma and/or shame?
Could you entertain the idea of talking about your feelings and/or pain?
Would you talk to a mental health professional?
Do you feel suffocated by the rigid architecture of masculinity?
Are you able to process and express your emotions?
If we are to help men, we must change the culture. We must change the concept of masculinity. Our expectations, stereotypes and messaging must change to benefit men. We must all help destroy the pyramid on which toxic masculinity resides.
Are you inspired to generate a conversation?
I encourage you to talk to your friends, to find someone you can trust with what it is you are going through. Some may not understand and that is fine – not everyone understands mental health – but others may share the same fears, pain, dysphoria. You may find that your friends are going through something very similar and that mental health is something that you can begin to connect deeper on and help each other through. It is courageous to open up about mental health. Yet, talking is not enough. We understand that. So we’ll be setting up events and more to help.
Please visit our resources page for information on organisations that help with men and mental health.