Men’s Mental Health: “Man Up” is Not the Answer
Patriarchy is one of the sole most life-threatening socio-political ailment attacking the men of our society. However, most men scarcely use or even comprehend what the term “patriarchy” signifies. Most men never ponder about how the patriarchy was developed, tolerated, and maintained throughout centuries. Countless cisgender men would simply attribute patriarchy to a so-called male power structure that is denounced by feminism on the women's liberation front.
It is a socio-political and economic structure that stands resolute on the notion that males are biologically aggressive, dominating, and superior to everything and everyone, and other groups of people, especially females should be considered weak, subservient, and modest. Patriarchy has physically and psychologically enforced specific gender roles throughout generations. However, innumerable men while supporting patriarchy, ignore the plight of their mental health and emotional capacity because of the patriarchal system and being repeatedly told to “man up.”
Societal Expectations from Men
Societal expectations are the approaches in which men and women have been traditionally anticipated to act and play a role in their families, workplaces, and generally in society. Societal expectations are inculcated from childhood and dictate that men should be the breadwinners of their family, and emanate “masculine” traits of aggression, stoicism, physical strength, and dominance. While men endeavor and want to feel mentally strong, the burden of these traits is causing a mental health crisis, as the notion coerces that these traditional conceptions make one a “man.” Consequently, men try to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible, be it mentally, socially, or financially.
Research suggests that conducting yourself in a way that conforms to these traits has correlated with increased anguish, poorer mental health, and a reluctance to reach out for support as they feel that they cannot speak about their emotions. Those who do speak out and try to get help are often told to “man up” and to dismiss the existence of the problems they face.
As a society, we need to comprehend the basic understanding of when discussing men, we are focusing on a socially constructed gender identity that lies on a spectrum, and does not lie isolated. Specifically, the crisis impacts cis-gendered men, regardless of their sexuality and their heteronormativity. When addressing masculinities, we note attitude, character, and specific actions attributed to men and the various paths of being a man.
In most households, young boys are instructed that “boys don’t cry”. These colloquialisms transmit the message that due to being a part of a certain gender, these rigid expectations almost strip away humanity from these young boys. If they do not conform to these gender roles, boys are reprimanded in a gendered way, often by senior male figures in their lives. They are either met with violence, child abuse, and homophobic, transphobic, and feminizing slurs as if being a woman, homosexual or transgender person is an insult to the superiority of a man.
Is masculinity inherently disastrous?
Masculinity is diverse for everyone. Opinions on masculinity and manhood are extensively affected by nurture, experience, privilege, and the socio-economic environment of an individual. Race, class structures, social capital, physical ability or different abilities, sexual orientation, gender, and sex shape what a man would describe as manhood. Men who are tormented and oppressed due to the differences in the aforementioned factors embody their masculinity in a non-mainstream way i.e. marginalized masculinity. Such examples include transgender men of color, homosexual men, and queer men.
Hegemonic masculinity can, however, in some circumstances become toxic and catastrophic for all people. The several pillars firstly include estranging yourself from femininity. This encapsulates boys playing “boys” games, such as sports, not experimenting with clothes and makeup, wearing “non-girly” colors, etc. The second and third pillar revolves around stoicism, restricting emotions, being tough, aggressive, and evading vulnerability. The fourth and fifth pillar enforce that men should be seen as exceedingly sexual with women and substantiate their heterosexuality through homophobic actions, or verbal slurs or indirect homophobic thoughts.
According to researchers (Silver, Levant, & Gonzalez, 2018), traditional masculinity ruminates over the domineering perspective of the male role before the feminist deconstruction of gender roles. Toxic masculinity is the manifestation of masculinity that coerces limitations in behavior and reiterates the power dominion of men with social, financial, and cultural capital, namely rich white misogynistic men. But the greater question is how does toxic masculinity harm the male population?
Due to a lack of emotional capacity, men may encounter troubles in their relationships and interpersonal intimacy. As they were never educated on how to deal with their mental health, they may face immense depression and anxiety, and cope through substance abuse and alcohol addiction. Also, they may be unable to perform daily tasks, have bodily insecurities, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. On a greater level, men who have been deeply ingrained with the concept of toxic masculinity may resort to violence, such as sexual assault, physical abuse, and rape, as men have been told that their harsh and violent control emasculates them.
The stigma and mental illnesses
As per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men passed away by suicide at a higher rate of 3.54 percent than women in 2017. The NGO, Mental Health America documents that more than 6 million men are affected by depression annually in the United States. Mental illnesses, such as depression, and suicide are categorized as the leading cause of death in the male population, and men are still far less likely to acquire mental health support and therapy than women.
According to Nicole Greene, the Deputy Director at the Office on Women's Health, countless men have been diagnosed with mental health illnesses but fail to take any action because they feel that it makes them weak. Due to a fear of judgment and the taboo surrounding men’s mental health, they fail to pick up their antidepressants from the pharmacy. Instead, they hide their emotions with anger, aggression, or isolation.
Moreover, due to the pressure, men will treat the physical symptoms that accompany their mental health issues such as headaches, back pain, body pain, and unhealthy sleeping patterns. However, this does not solve the underlying issue, and the problem prevails. Popular mainstream media further stigmatizes mental health by illustrating it as a “women’s issue”, and it, unfortunately, feeds into the sentiment that women are weak and fragile, and men do not encounter such issues.
Professor Norman Bruce Anderson, the former CEO of the American Psychological Association, asserted that African American and Latino men are six times more prone to be murdered than their white counterparts. Native Americans were also found to most likely to attempt suicide. African Americans were also found to be least likely to resort to healthcare providers for mental health support due to the establishment of mistrust that stemmed from medical experimentation on African American slaves. Hence, men belonging to diverse ethnic and racial communities continue to face barriers to solve their mental health issues.
As per the International Journal on Child Abuse and Neglect, they aimed to find long term consequences of physical and sexual assault of young boys. This clinical survey records the psychological operations of 76 men with corroborated allegations against a religiously-affiliated organization for numerous and brutal incidents of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The study concluded that 42% of the participants currently had PTSD, 21% suffered alcohol addiction issues and 25% had mood-related disorders. More than 26 participants endured continual sexual difficulties, and more than 39 people had a record of criminal activity.
Feminism and the way forward
While the popular opinion stands that feminism is explicitly for women, research has indicated that gender-equal countries, such as Iceland and Sweden have lower divorce rates and suicides rates. In empowering women, men are also protected from economic shocks by lessening the financial burden and mental stress. Moreover, feminism welcomes men to be more in contact with their emotions to foster better relationships and a better society as well.
When we strip away the burdensome yoke of manning up, we strip away the culture of male domination, male privilege, generational cycle of abuse, rape culture, and harassment. Thus, suffering in silence is not a safe or healthy choice for anyone. We need to cease to trivialize mental health issues and internalize that traumatic incidents perpetuate mental health problems, not gender. The dysfunctional model of masculinity must evolve into empathy and affection by promoting love and comfort between boys.
Furthermore, we need to revolutionize the legal sphere by modifying outdated laws and discussing sexual abuse and rape of young boys and men and the relevant penalties for the crime. This structural change in society commences from the family and must be advanced in educational institutions and the curriculum, culture, and traditions, relationships, the political landscape, and the workspace. In order to paint a better and brighter future for the upcoming generations, we must embrace our mental health. It does not make us weak, rather makes us stronger together.
Kelton High is a Social Sciences undergraduate who majored in International Relations, with a budding interest in qualitative research. He has previously worked at Transparency International and writes for LocateMotion.